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The Virtues of Religious Faith

 
robbrownsyd
 
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robbrownsyd
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25 September 2012 01:32
 

HANNAH: The problem with any O-fficial religion/philosophy is when they start trying to answer every question, especially those impossible ones like life after death or THE BIG PLAN. I haven’t heard of a religion yet that says, yeah, we have no idea whether you have a spirit that continues after you die.

That resonates with me, Hannah. I would respect religious people much more if they could be honest in this way. But then, it wouldn’t really be religion, would it?

Saralynn talks about how religion inspires goodness in its adherents. Maybe it can. I don’t doubt Saralynn when she says it inspires her in this way. But, as others have pointed out, many people seem to be able to do good without religion. Another problem is that while it may inspire some to do good, goodness is not all that it inspires. Religion is divisive. It involves judging others, inventing categories based on some old text or dogma into which people are divided - the worthy ones, that is, the believers/rule followers, go into the good category and others into the bad category. The categories are not based on any reasonable criteria. For example, people are sorted according to a system of rules that necessarily excludes or separates some people on the basis of attributes over which they have no control and which do others no harm - being gay for example - or on acts or states that do no harm or which are not necessarily harmful ie divorce or having sex outside marriage, non-mutilation of childrens’ genitals. eating particular foods, contraception… These things have nothing to do with real goodness. Religion also acts as a shield behind which people have historically committed horrendous atrocities.

When all is said and done, one has to ask whether the claims about the good religion inspires, even if true, make up for the problems caused by religion and its rules - eg poverty, overpopulation and AIDS in Africa due to religious rules about contraception and condom use - and by acts of evil such as the Inquisition, racism, religious persecution etc that are committed in the name of religion. And religion has always been used by the powerful as a tool to control and draw wealth from the masses. Instead of feeding the hungry it builds cathedrals and palaces and entrenches elites.

It’s impossible, of course, to do the calculation and come up with an actual figure but from where I’m looking the scales seem to be tilting heavily against religion as a force for overall good. The harm outweighs the good.

Most people, even without religion, would feel that it’s good to be good and they feel good when they do good. That’s part of our evolutionary heritage as a social species for whom cooperation and harmony have conferred fitness benefits. I don’t see why people can’t just be content with this and leave the bad shit associated with religion behind. Well, I mean I can see why they don’t want to - they want the promised goodies - to survive death, go to some paradise, get 72 virgions… But that just takes away the selflessness of doing good, it takes the good out of goodness because it’s predicated on getting something back. And often you’re supposed to get the goodies just by adhereing to a set of senseless rules without actually doing good for anyone.

So folks, just be good. If someone needs help then help if you can,  just as, through your life, you have been helped by others. It’s not rocket science. And if you want nice songs you can still join a choir. I don’t think we lose anything by dumping religion - espeicially big O-fficial religion. Be good and feel good just because it’s good to be good. Rejoice! Evolution made us that way. As an added bonus you get to extricate yourself from the cognitive dissonance required by religion. You become free and entirely responsible for your own goodness and the rules you choose to follow to help you achieve goodness you will have yourself judged as useful according to whether they actually are helpful. It will be about substance rather than form.

[ Edited: 25 September 2012 05:07 by robbrownsyd]
 
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25 September 2012 04:55
 
Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (Rob) - 24 September 2012 11:32 PM

I don’t see why people can’t just be content with this and leave the bad shit associated with religion behind. Well, I mean I can see why they don’t want to - they want the promised goodies - to survive death, go to some paradise, get 72 virgions… But that just takes away the selflessness of doing good, it takes the good out of goodness because it’s predicated on getting something back. And often you’re supposed to get the goodies just by adhereing to a set of senseless rules without actually doing good for anyone.

You took the words out of my post and I couldn’t agree more.

 
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25 September 2012 05:05
 

Cheers, Skip. I notice that even with your eminently sensible reasoning you got some flack over at the SH forum from the religious. Ah - that’s religion for you, hey!

 
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25 September 2012 11:36
 

Rob: Saralynn talks about how religion inspires goodness in its adherents. Maybe it can. I don’t doubt Saralynn when she says it inspires her in this way. But, as others have pointed out, many people seem to be able to do good without religion. Another problem is that while it may inspire some to do good, goodness is not all that it inspires. Religion is divisive. It involves judging others, inventing categories based on some old text or dogma into which people are divided - the worthy ones, that is, the believers/rule followers, go into the good category and others into the bad category. The categories are not based on any reasonable criteria. For example, people are sorted according to a system of rules that necessarily excludes or separates some people on the basis of attributes over which they have no control and which do others no harm - being gay for example - or on acts or states that do no harm or which are not necessarily harmful ie divorce or having sex outside marriage, non-mutilation of childrens’ genitals. eating particular foods, contraception: These things have nothing to do with real goodness. Religion also acts as a shield behind which people have historically committed horrendous atrocities.

Rob,As I recall, you once mentioned that you were interested in comparative religion at one time.  Did your interest stem only from intellectual curiosity or did some of the material you read stir you emotionally?  I find some parts of the Gita to be particularly inspirational., for example. Just wondering. I’m not trying to make a point.

 
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25 September 2012 12:19
 

Hannah: BTW, I don’t believe that personal sacrifice doesn’t come easy to you.  You’re always talking about the people you tutor.  That kind of sacrifice is a joy.

I don’t think sacrifice comes easily to anyone because it goes against our inclinations….if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be a sacrifice.

I get paid (well, most of the time) for tutoring, so that doesn’t qualify as a sacrifice.  I work on an idiosyncratic sliding scale, but I don’t work for free.  Okay….I do sometimes, but that’s usually because I like the person, so it doesn’t qualify as a sacrifice.

I did something sacrificial over the weekend and I failed miserably.  Not my actions (I don’t think), but my attitude.  I took this old lady who lives in a nursing home out to lunch.  I invited her on impulse because I felt sorry for her, but when the day arrived, I just didn’t want to do it.  The weather was incredibly beautiful and I would have greatly preferred to do something outside.  But a promise is a promise.  So, I drove for about an hour IN TRAFFIC to where she lives and we went out to lunch.  Well, she is a rather boring person so the conversation was dull and because she has a problem with a constricted throat, she ate veeeeeeery slowly.  It took her about an hour and a half to eat an omelet.  Behind her was a big picture window and the loveliness of the view intensified my yearning to shove the omelet down her constricted throat and run outside into the fresh air.

What amuses me now, especially after listening to Ram Dass, is how my aversion…not the event itself….created the unpleasantness.  I’m pretty sure I hid my discomfort rather well, but my attitude prevented me from finding any joy in the moment.  If she was boring, it was because I was boring.  Instead of creating an I-Thou relationship with her…asking her about her childhood, for instance, I turned her into an object and an impediment. 

So, now I feel guilty. I mean, not laden with remorse or anything…just that naggy sort of shame that pops into my head when I think of the day.  This is also why I need to be inspired by people like Ram Dass.  Besides being uplifting, he reminds me of the wisdom I’ve learned, but keep forgetting.

I guess inspiration doesn’t have to take the form of religious faith, but, when it comes to sacrifice, it certainly helps me.  I sort of imagine God sitting there with me, rooting for me and giving me great advice.  It also makes me feel like I’m part of a great fellowship of sorts, which includes people I really esteem, like Martin Luther King & the Dalai Lama & the Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz.

 
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25 September 2012 12:26
 
saralynn - 25 September 2012 10:19 AM

Besides being uplifting, he reminds me of the wisdom I’ve learned, but keep forgetting.

If you learned it, maybe you can remind him when he forgets. None of us are perfect.

 
 
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25 September 2012 14:15
 

Answerer: If you learned it, maybe you can remind him when he forgets. None of us are perfect.

I know that.  I don’t think he’s perfect. I just think he’s cool.  Besides, he may need help remembering these days.  He had a stroke a few years ago.  But, I think he used it as an opportunity for “inner work”.  Good ole Ram Dass.  He never lets his fans down.

 
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25 September 2012 16:05
 

.

[ Edited: 22 January 2013 05:12 by santhosh]
 
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25 September 2012 18:15
 

Well, I just listened to another lecture by Ram Dass and unfortunately, he’s lost his luster a bit.  There was too much talk about “old souls” & reincarnation.  But, he did tell a funny story about Tomothy Leary that I enjoyed.

Ram Dass visited Leary in the hospital when he was dying.  He said that, in many ways, Leary was often in a"dying as theater” mode, but once they had a serious conversation about his life & what it all meant, etc. Leary said,  “You know, I’m losing my memory.  But, I’ve learned something.  I’ve learned there is something inside us besides memories.”  Ram Dass replied, “What is that, Timothy?” “I dunno,” answered Leary.“I forgot.”

Now…that is hilarious.  What a character Timothy Leary was…eh?  I think he may be circling the earth right now.  I’m not sure.  I know his ashes were sent into space, but I don’t know the details.  He was going to have his head cut off and frozen when he died, but he changed his mind.

Oh well, I guess I’ll have to find another source of inspiration. Maybe I’ll take some LSD…..wearing a heart monitor, of course.

 
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25 September 2012 20:20
 

.

[ Edited: 22 January 2013 05:11 by santhosh]
 
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25 September 2012 21:45
 
saralynn - 25 September 2012 09:36 AM

Rob: Saralynn talks about how religion inspires goodness in its adherents. Maybe it can. I don’t doubt Saralynn when she says it inspires her in this way. But, as others have pointed out, many people seem to be able to do good without religion. Another problem is that while it may inspire some to do good, goodness is not all that it inspires. Religion is divisive. It involves judging others, inventing categories based on some old text or dogma into which people are divided - the worthy ones, that is, the believers/rule followers, go into the good category and others into the bad category. The categories are not based on any reasonable criteria. For example, people are sorted according to a system of rules that necessarily excludes or separates some people on the basis of attributes over which they have no control and which do others no harm - being gay for example - or on acts or states that do no harm or which are not necessarily harmful ie divorce or having sex outside marriage, non-mutilation of childrens’ genitals. eating particular foods, contraception: These things have nothing to do with real goodness. Religion also acts as a shield behind which people have historically committed horrendous atrocities.

Rob,As I recall, you once mentioned that you were interested in comparative religion at one time.  Did your interest stem only from intellectual curiosity or did some of the material you read stir you emotionally?  I find some parts of the Gita to be particularly inspirational., for example. Just wondering. I’m not trying to make a point.

Yes, I was interested Saralynn. That interest stemmed partly from intellectual curiosity and partly from the hope that I might still find a way to do god with a straight face. My last stand was Vedanta - I was emotionally drawn to Sri Ramakrishna and by the notion of Brahman = atman - all our lives are just facets of the one great underlying reality; it’s just that we individually are so constituted that we cannot see the whole.  The upshot of this is that when we hurt someone or do evil we are really doing it to ourselves. I’m still quite attracted to that. However, this does not imply a personal god or a creator of the universe. And the reincarnation idea is a lot of nonsense. And yes, I find parts of the Gita moving. But then so are some of the psalms.

It’s like I say, we can take whatever pearls there are from religion; we can take what works for us in terms of inspiration to goodness and leave the evil crap behind.  And that includes all the silly rules. And if that means we can’t do the religion, well, so much the worse for religion.

[ Edited: 25 September 2012 22:48 by robbrownsyd]
 
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25 September 2012 21:54
 

So what are yous guys talking about, exactly, when you talk about “faith”? How are you defining it?

Because I don’t think you’re really talking about faith. Are yous guys even on the same sheet of music?

 
 
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25 September 2012 22:07
 

‘Faith’? I’ve never understood ‘faith’. To me it’s always seemed like the silliest notion ever thought of. But as you say, it depends on what you mean by faith. I have ‘faith’ in the power of science to lead us closer and closer to the truth about reality. In that sense ‘faith’ means a sort of evidence based confidence. But ‘faith’ in the religious sense is what you have when you want to believe something without evidence (sometimes things that are obviously silly), or when you want to believe something even when the evidence points in the opposite direction.  I think that sort of faith is crazy and dangerous.

 
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25 September 2012 22:33
 
saralynn - 25 September 2012 10:19 AM

Hannah: BTW, I don’t believe that personal sacrifice doesn’t come easy to you.  You’re always talking about the people you tutor.  That kind of sacrifice is a joy.

I don’t think sacrifice comes easily to anyone because it goes against our inclinations….if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be a sacrifice.

I get paid (well, most of the time) for tutoring, so that doesn’t qualify as a sacrifice.  I work on an idiosyncratic sliding scale, but I don’t work for free.  Okay….I do sometimes, but that’s usually because I like the person, so it doesn’t qualify as a sacrifice.

I did something sacrificial over the weekend and I failed miserably.  Not my actions (I don’t think), but my attitude.  I took this old lady who lives in a nursing home out to lunch.  I invited her on impulse because I felt sorry for her, but when the day arrived, I just didn’t want to do it.  The weather was incredibly beautiful and I would have greatly preferred to do something outside.  But a promise is a promise.  So, I drove for about an hour IN TRAFFIC to where she lives and we went out to lunch.  Well, she is a rather boring person so the conversation was dull and because she has a problem with a constricted throat, she ate veeeeeeery slowly.  It took her about an hour and a half to eat an omelet.  Behind her was a big picture window and the loveliness of the view intensified my yearning to shove the omelet down her constricted throat and run outside into the fresh air.

What amuses me now, especially after listening to Ram Dass, is how my aversion…not the event itself….created the unpleasantness.  I’m pretty sure I hid my discomfort rather well, but my attitude prevented me from finding any joy in the moment.  If she was boring, it was because I was boring.  Instead of creating an I-Thou relationship with her…asking her about her childhood, for instance, I turned her into an object and an impediment. 

So, now I feel guilty. I mean, not laden with remorse or anything…just that naggy sort of shame that pops into my head when I think of the day.  This is also why I need to be inspired by people like Ram Dass.  Besides being uplifting, he reminds me of the wisdom I’ve learned, but keep forgetting.

I guess inspiration doesn’t have to take the form of religious faith, but, when it comes to sacrifice, it certainly helps me.  I sort of imagine God sitting there with me, rooting for me and giving me great advice.  It also makes me feel like I’m part of a great fellowship of sorts, which includes people I really esteem, like Martin Luther King & the Dalai Lama & the Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz.

Well, you don’t need to have a perfect attitude to do good.  If the lady had a nice outing, then you did good.  You learned something, and that was good too.  I bet even Ram Dass has a crappy attitude sometimes.  I’ve found that people can be absolutely fantastic giving advice or inspiring people, but still have lots of problems in their own lives.

My Alanon sponsor was very wise in helping me, but she was divorced after having put up with an abusive husband for years, and her grown daughter was a mess, and her own career was rocky.  But despite all her woes, she’d learned from experience. 

There’s a saying, “Act as if…”  So go ahead and act as if you’re happy to be with the old lady (and I’m sure you were gracious), and at least you can know you tried and gained some insight.  Who knows, maybe someday you’ll be the old lady, and somebody younger will take you out, and you’ll know they’re a little bored, but you’ll understand and maybe chuckle to yourself:  “Those younger people; always wish they were out dancing in the sunshine.”

 
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25 September 2012 23:17
 
Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (Rob) - 25 September 2012 08:07 PM

‘Faith’? I’ve never understood ‘faith’. To me it’s always seemed like the silliest notion ever thought of. But as you say, it depends on what you mean by faith. I have ‘faith’ in the power of science to lead us closer and closer to the truth about reality. In that sense ‘faith’ means a sort of evidence based confidence. But ‘faith’ in the religious sense is what you have when you want to believe something without evidence (sometimes things that are obviously silly), or when you want to believe something even when the evidence points in the opposite direction.  I think that sort of faith is crazy and dangerous.

Have you ever had faith in another person based upon your personal experience with that person?  Just answer the question.

 
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