Good because of religion? Or in spite of it?

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http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/09/13/there-are-good-catholics-there-is-no-good-catholicism/

Here's a rather provocative post by well-known Atheist+ (hated by a lot of non-plus Atheists to my understanding, but that's a different issue) PZ Myers regarding Catholicism.

Kristen Ostendorf was a teacher at a Catholic school in Minnesota for 18 years. Then one day, in a workshop with 120 other teachers, she openly confessed how she lived her life.

It wasn't planned. It was a very surreal moment when I heard myself saying the things I tried not to say. And I was at once terrified and really glad and proud. I didn't just say, "I'm gay, I'm in a relationship with a woman, and I'm happy," and sit down. That really wasn't the point of what I was saying. It was, "This is my prayer for all of us: That we mean what we do." Then I sat down and I thought, "I wonder what's going to happen next?" I hadn't considered [the repercussions], but I didn't know I was going to say what I said.

Take a guess what happened next. Go on, I bet you can do it, no problem.

The next day, not even after any significant deliberation, but the very next day, she was called into the office and asked to resign. She refused, so they fired her.

This is the same school that recently compelled their president to resign when it was discovered that he was in a long-term relationship with another man.

Ms Ostendorf seems like a good person with a great deal of personal integrity, yet, unfortunately, much of her discussion in that article is about how Catholicism is such a positive, affirming force in her life, and how she loves the scripture and has been inspired by it.

The evidence says otherwise. I think too many people look into religion and see a mirror, reflecting their good values and their personal aspirations, and they fail to see that they're holding up a burden and a distraction and a poisonous delusion, and that, as good people, they'd be even greater when free of that ugliness. They need to realize that they are not the church, and the church is not them - and that separating oneself from an edifice of lies is actually a virtue.

Well. Raises some questions, doesn't it?
Seems he is saying that good Catholics would be even better people if they dispensed with their faith. I'm not sure I agree completely. While I certainly think that there's no reason for religion to be necessary, I will say that local religious groups manage to scrape together some great communal efforts for charity etc.. And sometimes even without a bad aftertaste (while some groups use every opportunity of charity to proselytize). And I'd say that there's a lack of such communal organisation among secular groups.
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of worthwhile secular charities - in fact, I support one financially every month - but since non-religious groups lack the sort of communal centre that church congregations have, efforts are often more sporadic and unorganized, even if they may be superior in that they lack certain ulterior motives some church groups may have.
In any case, the main point I believe he is making is that Catholic groups doing good is not reflecting of Catholicism. At least not "official" Catholicism as taught by the Vatican.
Which, admittedly, few Catholics I'm aware of follow to the letter anyway (and that's a good thing in my book).

I'm curious to hear what you think of this. Is the communal group that such congregations form and the work it does a big enough boon to outweigh the negative aspects of Catholicism? Or would these people be even better, even more productive without the religion as the article seems to imply? Are they good because of their religion? Perhaps because of its rallying capability? Or its moral commands? Or are they good in spite of it? And would be even better without it?

As I said above, I'm not sure they would be as effective in their work without their religion. Surely, other groups could be formed to fill that rallying role. But would secular groups truly step up to the task and fill the void, if it ever came about?

I'd say that religion is less relevant than people give credit for.

As long as people can choose their religion, and choose the interpretation that seems best to them, then it's not controlling them in much of a meaningful way.

If you are a Christian, and you hate gay people, well that stuff about hating gay people is likely to be popular with you. If you support the rights of gay people, well that stuff about love and tolerance is likely to be popular with you.

It doesn't matter what your position is, your religion can be made to support it, or you can find a better one.

Now, certainly religion has an effect, but not necessarily more than any other cultural thing.

Well, many of the more cynical atheists - of the Richard Dawkins school of thought - would say that all good that stems from religion is most definitely of the "in spite of..." variety. For them, anything good a religious person does is either innate humanism (Thou Shalt Not Steal and Thou Shalt Not Steal aren't exclusive to Christianity or even religion in general, they're lynchpins of any society that considers itself civilised) or else disingenuous (like charity given through religious obligation, or community work done to rack up brownie points for when Judgement Day comes). Certainly it's easy to see how religion inspires a lot of stuff that's anathema to fairly basic human morality and empathy - human sacrifice, child genital mutilation, crusades, pogroms, suicide bombing.

I'm not sure that's entirely fair though. People tend to do good deeds when they're inspired by a feeling of fraternity or fellowship and different people find that in different places. If somebody gets reminded of their common humanity through their church, and goes on to do selfless acts as a result, that's not to be scoffed at.

My two monetary units of lowest common denominator.

Batou667:
Certainly it's easy to see how religion inspires a lot of stuff that's anathema to fairly basic human morality and empathy - human sacrifice, child genital mutilation, crusades, pogroms, suicide bombing.

Does it though? Those sorts of things happen without religion being involved.

A holy war is much the same as any other way. Terrorists have killed civilians in the name of all sorts of cause. Minorities get attacked all the time.

Now, religion might give you an excuse for all those things, but at least much of the time they'd have happened anyway for some other nominal reason.

I've noticed that religious people will claim that the good in religion happens because of the religion, while the bad in religion will happen in spite of the religion, whereas the anti-religion will often condemn religion for the bad that happens because of religion, and then claim that any good that happens because of religion happens in spite of religion. Hell, I'll even admit to being guilty of the former.

However, when it comes down to it, the answer lies in the middle. Religion isn't good or bad. It's simply a belief in some form of the supernatural with some degree of participation/devotion involved. As such, it can and is be used for both good and evil that would not happen without it, and likewise there is both good and evil that occurs from those who practice it that would have happened with or without it. Sometimes it's a reason, sometimes it's an excuse, and sometimes it isn't involved at all.

thaluikhain:

If you are a Christian, and you hate gay people, well that stuff about hating gay people is likely to be popular with you. If you support the rights of gay people, well that stuff about love and tolerance is likely to be popular with you.

Is it? If you were taught from a young age that they were sinful and awful and to be right religiously you should dislike them, does that really have no effect?

thaluikhain:

Batou667:
Certainly it's easy to see how religion inspires a lot of stuff that's anathema to fairly basic human morality and empathy - human sacrifice, child genital mutilation, crusades, pogroms, suicide bombing.

Does it though? Those sorts of things happen without religion being involved.

While I oppose trying to cast religion in the worst possible light, I don't see how genital mutilation or human sacrifice can crop up in places bereft of its influence.

More importantly, I don't know how such things can continue in an enlightened society without religious influence.

Skeleon:
I'm curious to hear what you think of this. Is the communal group that such congregations form and the work it does a big enough boon to outweigh the negative aspects of Catholicism? Or would these people be even better, even more productive without the religion as the article seems to imply? Are they good because of their religion? Perhaps because of its rallying capability? Or its moral commands? Or are they good in spite of it? And would be even better without it?

Individually, I think there is much truth in the thought that, absent of any external influence/pressure, religion is little more than a mirror, reflecting and reinforcing one's personal values. Meaning, people find what they want to find within a religion, and use it to justify what they want justified. Good people will find the good teachings in religion as use that as a source of inspiration and strength. Bad people will likewise find passages that reinforce and justify their desires. But to argue that good people would be even better without religion "holding them back" is just being completely dishonest.

and they fail to see that they're holding up a burden and a distraction and a poisonous delusion, and that, as good people, they'd be even greater when free of that ugliness. They need to realize that they are not the church, and the church is not them - and that separating oneself from an edifice of lies is actually a virtue.

It is not at all saying that you'd do more good/be a better person without religion, it is literally saying "no matter how good of a person you are, simply being a member of the Church tarnishes your good name, and you'd be better off without that stain on your reputation" which is nothing more than utter anti-theist garbage.

You are a good person neither because of, nor in spite of, your religion. You are a good person because you are a good person, and if you are a good person, religion, at least the personal aspect of it, would only help you to be an even better person, as there are many, many messages within the Bible, and indeed, within most religions, about being better people and being good to each other. However, if we are talking about the communal influence a religion has on a person, that could actually go either way, depending on what the particular congregation a person is a part of does and teaches. However, people have a tendency to find a congregation that is agreeable to them rather than stay within a congregation that teaches things they do not themselves agree with long enough to be convinced to agree with them, and the ones who do are often the ones who are dragged there as children by their parents because their parents agree with the teachings of that particular church. So, in a way, it is not the religion that has such an influence on people, but the beliefs of their parents and the church they choose to attend and bring their children to that has such an influence, and even then, without those beliefs being reinforced upon them while at home by their parents, it is not likely that the beliefs taught at church are going to stick. They certainly didn't stick with me nor any of my 3 brothers, who were all taken to the same church every Sunday with little to no talk of religion whatsoever at home.

That being said, for those congregations who organize charity events and go out and help people, it probably is rather unlikely that many of the participants would organize together or go out on their own or otherwise find reason to participate in such acts of charity if they were not a member of such a church. Some may, but for many, I believe they would not be likely to make the effort if not in the name of their religion and because the church they already attend is the one organizing it.

Kaulen Fuhs:

thaluikhain:

Batou667:
Certainly it's easy to see how religion inspires a lot of stuff that's anathema to fairly basic human morality and empathy - human sacrifice, child genital mutilation, crusades, pogroms, suicide bombing.

Does it though? Those sorts of things happen without religion being involved.

While I oppose trying to cast religion in the worst possible light, I don't see how genital mutilation or human sacrifice can crop up in places bereft of its influence.

More importantly, I don't know how such things can continue in an enlightened society without religious influence.

And even more importantly than that, I can't think of a single enlightened society with religious influence that practices human sacrifice or genital mutilation, unless you're talking about male circumcision, which hardly qualifies as mutilation. So I'm not really sure why you are trying to argue this is an issue if you oppose trying to cast religion in the worst possible light.

Also, I have no freaking clue which tire company offers a $70 visa rebate with purchase, nor do I care, but does it give me that option? No, so I chose "None of these" which, of course, was the wrong answer. Dear Escapist, please stop passing off retarded advertisements as captchas.

Zeconte:

Kaulen Fuhs:

thaluikhain:

Does it though? Those sorts of things happen without religion being involved.

While I oppose trying to cast religion in the worst possible light, I don't see how genital mutilation or human sacrifice can crop up in places bereft of its influence.

More importantly, I don't know how such things can continue in an enlightened society without religious influence.

And even more importantly than that, I can't think of a single enlightened society with religious influence that practices human sacrifice or genital mutilation, unless you're talking about male circumcision, which hardly qualifies as mutilation.

I beg to differ.

So I'm not really sure why you are trying to argue this is an issue if you oppose trying to cast religion in the worst possible light.

I'm not arguing that it is an issue that must occur in the cases of religion, only that I can't think of an irreligious society that practices either of these things.

Kaulen Fuhs:

Zeconte:

Kaulen Fuhs:

While I oppose trying to cast religion in the worst possible light, I don't see how genital mutilation or human sacrifice can crop up in places bereft of its influence.

More importantly, I don't know how such things can continue in an enlightened society without religious influence.

And even more importantly than that, I can't think of a single enlightened society with religious influence that practices human sacrifice or genital mutilation, unless you're talking about male circumcision, which hardly qualifies as mutilation.

I beg to differ.

So I'm not really sure why you are trying to argue this is an issue if you oppose trying to cast religion in the worst possible light.

I'm not arguing that it is an issue that must occur in the cases of religion, only that I can't think of an irreligious society that practices either of these things.

And my point is, that I can't think of an enlightened religious society that practices either of these things either. As for irreligious societies, I seem to be having trouble thinking of any beyond the Soviet Union and Communist China, and I wouldn't exactly hold them up as models of morality, as even if they didn't practice genital mutilation or human sacrifice, they were certainly more than willing to commit mass murder among other gross violations of human rights.

Master of the Skies:
Is it? If you were taught from a young age that they were sinful and awful and to be right religiously you should dislike them, does that really have no effect?

Not much more effect that teaching them they are wrong and awful and to be right in a secular or cultural or patriotic was you should dislike them, I mean.

Kaulen Fuhs:
While I oppose trying to cast religion in the worst possible light, I don't see how genital mutilation or human sacrifice can crop up in places bereft of its influence.

More importantly, I don't know how such things can continue in an enlightened society without religious influence.

I would compare FGM to footbinding (very loosely). Footbinding was not, IIRC, due to any religious reason, it was simply cultural.

thaluikhain:
I would compare FGM to footbinding (very loosely). Footbinding was not, IIRC, due to any religious reason, it was simply cultural.

As far as I'm aware, footbinding was done solely for reason of aesthetics, as in men found women with small feet more attractive than women with large feet, and so, parents bound the feet of their daughters so that they would be found more suitable by a potential husband. I could be wrong, but I've never heard any justification beyond that.

Also interesting to note that female genital mutilation is something unique to certain cultures, and not specifically endorsed by religion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_on_female_genital_mutilation

Zeconte:
But to argue that good people would be even better without religion "holding them back" is just being completely dishonest.

and they fail to see that they're holding up a burden and a distraction and a poisonous delusion, and that, as good people, they'd be even greater when free of that ugliness. They need to realize that they are not the church, and the church is not them - and that separating oneself from an edifice of lies is actually a virtue.

It is not at all saying that you'd do more good/be a better person without religion, it is literally saying "no matter how good of a person you are, simply being a member of the Church tarnishes your good name, and you'd be better off without that stain on your reputation" which is nothing more than utter anti-theist garbage.

Wait, dishonest of PZ Myers or of me for my summary? I took the "as good people, they'd be even greater when free of that ugliness" you also quoted there to mean that they'd be even better people according to him without it. I suppose "greater" could refer to something other than being good, but the context seems to be just that. I'm sure he considers it a stain, also, but to me at least it sounds like he's talking about actions, not just reputation.

So, in a way, it is not the religion that has such an influence on people, but the beliefs of their parents and the church they choose to attend and bring their children to that has such an influence, and even then, without those beliefs being reinforced upon them while at home by their parents, it is not likely that the beliefs taught at church are going to stick.

True, it is largely the upbringing. But he seems to want to clearly differentiate the various separate congegrations (and the people in those congregations) from the overarching religion generally and Catholicism with its centralization specifically. Something I think makes a lot of sense because of the often vast differences between groups; but many people seem disinclined towards that, presumably precisely because of the notion of belonging to something larger than their smaller church group.

That being said, for those congregations who organize charity events and go out and help people, it probably is rather unlikely that many of the participants would organize together or go out on their own or otherwise find reason to participate in such acts of charity if they were not a member of such a church.

Yes, that's what I suspected as well. While there are plenty of secular charities, there aren't really that many secular... meeting... group... things... that even could organize something like that.

...unless you're talking about male circumcision, which hardly qualifies as mutilation.

Eh, that's kind of questionable/unresolved. A lot of medical groups argue it is and the controversy is still ongoing. Not to mention one could easily argue that the notion it's not mutlation is cultural/based on widespread cultural acceptance. Kind of like those cultures where FGM is cultural and even large swaths of women (who were brought up traditionally) argue for said mutilations to take place.

Zeconte:

Kaulen Fuhs:

Zeconte:

And even more importantly than that, I can't think of a single enlightened society with religious influence that practices human sacrifice or genital mutilation, unless you're talking about male circumcision, which hardly qualifies as mutilation.

I beg to differ.

So I'm not really sure why you are trying to argue this is an issue if you oppose trying to cast religion in the worst possible light.

I'm not arguing that it is an issue that must occur in the cases of religion, only that I can't think of an irreligious society that practices either of these things.

And my point is, that I can't think of an enlightened religious society that practices either of these things either.

That only works if you don't consider circumcision to be genital mutilation. I very much consider it to be so. Human sacrifice, sure.

thaluikhain:

I would compare FGM to footbinding (very loosely). Footbinding was not, IIRC, due to any religious reason, it was simply cultural.

Good point, and one I've overlooked, for sure. The differences in reason exist, but the overriding principle is the same, I suppose. I still think it would be much harder to justify mutilation of any kind in an irreligious society than it would in a religious one. Look to America, for example. Mutilation ongoing, as opposed to our more secular neighbors across the pond.

Skeleon:
Wait, dishonest of PZ Myers or of me for my summary? I took the "as good people, they'd be even greater when free of that ugliness" you also quoted there to mean that they'd be even better people according to him without it. I suppose "greater" could refer to something other than being good, but the context seems to be just that. I'm sure he considers it a stain, also, but to me at least it sounds like he's talking about actions, not just reputation.

Dishonest of PZ Myers, of course. You did, after all, seem to voice your disagreement with that assertion. But the problem with saying it sounds like he's talking about actions is that the gave no real mention to actions, no indication that religion is somehow holding these people back from performing even more (greater) good deeds, only that they are burdened, distracted, and "poisonously deluded" by religion. I suppose you could argue that by saying they are somehow distracted by religion, without that distraction, they could be more focused on doing good, but what reason is there to believe this is true, in light of congregations that actively focus on encouraging its members to participate in charitable acts? It's like saying that without someone you respect and value the opinion of encouraging you to go out and do good, you'd be more encouraged to go out and do good. To me, it doesn't seem like he's arguing that without religion, they'd be more likely to do even greater things than they are with religion, it seems more that he's saying "as good as a religious person might be, an even better person recognizes the harmful ("poisonous delusion") and deceptive ("edifice of lies") nature of religion and does not associate themselves with it." I mean, he went so far as to call not associating oneself with a religion a virtue in and of itself. So how is he not saying an irreligious person is more virtuous and therefore better than a religious person?

True, it is largely the upbringing. But he seems to want to clearly differentiate the various separate congegrations (and the people in those congregations) from the overarching religion generally and Catholicism with its centralization specifically. Something I think makes a lot of sense because of the often vast differences between groups; but many people seem disinclined towards that, presumably precisely because of the notion of belonging to something larger than their smaller church group.

But I think that last part is precisely why differentiating yourself from the overarching religion does not make sense, because without that overarching religion, there would be no congregations for people to be a part of. It's basically saying "if you take away the reason people have to congregate, they will congregate together for even better reasons" when there really is no reason to believe they would find any reason at all to do so, let alone a better one than sharing the same beliefs, because as you say:

there aren't really that many secular... meeting... group... things... that even could organize something like that.

As for differentiating between an individual and their religion, again, it goes back to my argument that personally, people take from religion what they want to take from it. Religion neither makes them good, nor makes them bad, but it can make good people better and bad people worse, because they are using it to reinforce their own desires. The argument that religion by itself can make good people worse or bad people better is rather preposterous to me, because it would require a person to read the scriptures on their own, and come to an understanding of it that runs contrary to what they already think and feel and then willingly choose to go against their own desires for the sake of following their understanding of the religious scriptures. I highly doubt anyone would actually do this without the influence of some kind of external force acting upon them, and more so without some kind of threat from said external force.

Eh, that's kind of questionable/unresolved. A lot of medical groups argue it is and the controversy is still ongoing. Not to mention one could easily argue that the notion it's not mutlation is cultural/based on widespread cultural acceptance. Kind of like those cultures where FGM is cultural and even large swaths of women (who were brought up traditionally) argue for said mutilations to take place.

Perhaps, but then, that only goes to further the argument that genital mutilation is actually culturally justified, rather than religiously justified as is being argued. But, as far as male circumcision goes, I can actually understand the justification for it being more hygienic, especially coming from an age where hygiene/cleanliness was hard to come by. I'd imagine back when the Hebrews came up with the practice (along with many other laws involving hygiene and diet), properly cleaning one's foreskin was a much more difficult task than it is in today's age, and serious infections were far more common, and has since just become a cultural thing, especially in America, where it's just become accepted as standard practice regardless of religion.

Kaulen Fuhs:
...I still think it would be much harder to justify mutilation of any kind in an irreligious society than it would in a religious one...

I would disagree, depending on your definition and the context of the mutilation.
Religious societies usually have something that identifies the people of its society; circumcision being a good example. Most of the worlds prominent religions, however, either disallow entirely, or seriously frown upon, other forms of mutilation - such as body mods, cosmetic surgery and tattoos - as a part of their religion.
A non-religious society doesn't have the reason for an identification mutilation, however they also have no reason to disallow body mods, cosmetic surgery or tattoos.
As western nations have trended away from religion, for example, the societal acceptance of cosmetic surgery has increased. In some circles of society it's even expected, such as the entertainment industry, in order for people to conform to the pressures of the society itself. The mutilation is simply embraced by society for cultural or aesthetic reasons. In these situations, it's easy to argue that religion is absent. In fact, one could argue that it occurs in spite of the religion pressures to not mutilate one's body.
As I said, however, it depends on your definition of mutilation.

Zeh Don:
I would disagree, depending on your definition and the context of the mutilation.
Religious societies usually have something that identifies the people of its society; circumcision being a good example. Most of the worlds prominent religions, however, either disallow entirely, or seriously frown upon, other forms of mutilation - such as body mods, cosmetic surgery and tattoos - as a part of their religion.
A non-religious society doesn't have the reason for an identification mutilation, however they also have no reason to disallow body mods, cosmetic surgery or tattoos.
As western nations have trended away from religion, for example, the societal acceptance of cosmetic surgery has increased. In some circles of society it's even expected, such as the entertainment industry, in order for people to conform to the pressures of the society itself. The mutilation is simply embraced by society for cultural or aesthetic reasons. In these situations, it's easy to argue that religion is absent. In fact, one could argue that it occurs in spite of the religion pressures to not mutilate one's body.
As I said, however, it depends on your definition of mutilation.

Now hold on, the problem with FGM (and circumcision) isn't that it's done, period. It's that it's done to children who have no say in the matter. You'd need to find a reason why a non-religious society would do something like that to a child. It's the lack of self-determination that's the big gripe for opponents on these issues, not the "body modding" or whatever in itself.

If you have people that would be so horrible and immoral without religion in their lives (fear of a wrathful god etc etc), then I suppose religion has a positive aspect to it, though I question whether it's worth it considering all the crazy baggage that comes along with it.

Zeconte:
...no real mention to actions, no indication that religion is somehow holding these people back from performing even more (greater) good deeds, only that they are burdened, distracted, and "poisonously deluded" by religion.

To be fair, this is just a blog post, not a proper deconstruction. I'm sure he could give you more extensive arguments for these claims/probably has given such arguments in lectures, on rallies or whatever. Of course, that doesn't mean they'd be convincing/justified or anything, I'm just saying this isn't the whole picture.

...in light of congregations that actively focus on encouraging its members to participate in charitable acts?

Agreed, that's my main issue with it as well. Again, it's not like secular alternatives don't exist, but it's easy to see the lack of grouping that removing that element from their lives would result in be filled with something other than charity. Perhaps more time for personal hobbies or whatever. Secular groups lack the organizational structure that congregations have in my view. Not that this is a given, an immutable fact. I think the irreligious community should work on that and thus work to remove yet another reason to hold on to religion. It's an oft-used argument that nothing good that a religious person does couldn't also be done by a non-religious. And I'd agree with that. But it's not sufficient that they could. They actually should.

To me, it doesn't seem like he's arguing that without religion, they'd be more likely to do even greater things than they are with religion, it seems more that he's saying "as good as a religious person might be, an even better person recognizes the harmful ("poisonous delusion") and deceptive ("edifice of lies") nature of religion and does not associate themselves with it." I mean, he went so far as to call not associating oneself with a religion a virtue in and of itself. So how is he not saying an irreligious person is more virtuous and therefore better than a religious person?

Hm, that's where you lose me slightly. I think he's saying "everything else being equal, an irreligious person could be more virtuous", becoming "even greater when free of that ugliness" by dispensing with religious baggage and doing greater good than before. So that person'd still have to do all these acts of charity and be the good person they were before at least in order to be "better"; merely being irreligious isn't it. The focus on actions (and improving upon those actions further) after all tends to be very important to irrelgious folks.

As for differentiating between an individual and their religion, again, it goes back to my argument that personally, people take from religion what they want to take from it. Religion neither makes them good, nor makes them bad, but it can make good people better and bad people worse, because they are using it to reinforce their own desires.

Well, but that acknowledges that, say, moderate Catholics differ strongly from fundamentalist or Vatican-like Catholics. When he talks about Catholicism, I think he's referring to the latter more specifically than to Catholicism in all its variety across the globe. I think he's saying such Catholics are better than the Catholicism the Vatican would want them to follow, than the "official" Catholicism. And he talks about Catholicism specifically because it is an unusual example of centralization in religion, whereas many other religions and sects of Christianity - while having authorities and all - lack that central focus that Catholicism has in the form of the Pope and the Vatican. As such - if I interpret him correctly - he's more so speaking out against institutionalized religion than personalized by way of example. Or perhaps that's my own biased interpretation (since I tend to primarily oppose religious organizations, not personal belief so much).

Perhaps, but then, that only goes to further the argument that genital mutilation is actually culturally justified, rather than religiously justified as is being argued.

But, as far as male circumcision goes, I can actually understand the justification for it being more hygienic, especially coming from an age where hygiene/cleanliness was hard to come by. I'd imagine back when the Hebrews came up with the practice (along with many other laws involving hygiene and diet), properly cleaning one's foreskin was a much more difficult task than it is in today's age, and serious infections were far more common, and has since just become a cultural thing, especially in America, where it's just become accepted as standard practice regardless of religion.

Is that really such a big difference when religion is a large part of the culture in question, allowing an issue to grow to such a size that the culture at large starts to get used to it? Without religious influence, circumcision would not have become as big as it is now in the USA. The fact that even irreligious people would use it nowadays is reflecting of the cultural change the religious influence brought about over time. It has just become so normalized that it's seeped into larger culture over time.

As for the hygiene argument, true. It's why there are some credible scientists arguing for the benefit of male circumcision in places like Africa. But that argument goes out the window completely when you're talking about first world countries. When the studies suggest that basic personal hygiene does the same. At that point, it has just become tradition.

Skeleon:
...You'd need to find a reason why a non-religious society would do something like that to a child...

Well, to be fair, I did stipulate that my post was relevant depending on ones definition of mutilation, and the context it was performed under.

In any case, as I already mentioned, the "reason" is merely societal preference. It's very simple. Circumcision began as a Jewish practice, agreed, but it became widespread because it was preferred by society - or at least enough of it to become a legitimate choice for parents to make.
I would argue that circumcision's continuance within society as "a choice" has little to nothing to do with religion, especially as circumcision is practiced in non-religious countries. It's merely something we've agreed on as acceptable. People object, as they always do, but not enough to change society and thus remove the choice.
Doctor's ask the question because society has demonstrated as a whole that it is a choice people like to have. As I mentioned in my previous post, if society demonstrated as a whole that it wanted the choice to tattoo children, it would be a question asked to parents.

Going one step further, how do you feel about genetic manipulation or embryo selection? I remember reading an article some time ago about a deaf couple who wanted their children to be born deaf, as the parents didn't consider the lack of a hearing a disability. Theoretically speaking, if we perfect genetic manipulation for children, it's on the table. Even something as far fetched as electing to have children with tails isn't outside the realm of possibility. Do you feel the same way about this type of selection?

Zeh Don:

Kaulen Fuhs:
...I still think it would be much harder to justify mutilation of any kind in an irreligious society than it would in a religious one...

I would disagree, depending on your definition and the context of the mutilation.
Religious societies usually have something that identifies the people of its society; circumcision being a good example. Most of the worlds prominent religions, however, either disallow entirely, or seriously frown upon, other forms of mutilation - such as body mods, cosmetic surgery and tattoos - as a part of their religion.
A non-religious society doesn't have the reason for an identification mutilation, however they also have no reason to disallow body mods, cosmetic surgery or tattoos.
As western nations have trended away from religion, for example, the societal acceptance of cosmetic surgery has increased. In some circles of society it's even expected, such as the entertainment industry, in order for people to conform to the pressures of the society itself. The mutilation is simply embraced by society for cultural or aesthetic reasons. In these situations, it's easy to argue that religion is absent. In fact, one could argue that it occurs in spite of the religion pressures to not mutilate one's body.
As I said, however, it depends on your definition of mutilation.

Heh, good point. As Skeleon said, the issue I have is choice in the matter, but I do appreciate you pointing out the flaw in my reasoning. Will need to consider my wording more carefully.

thaluikhain:
Does it though? Those sorts of things happen without religion being involved.

Kaulen Fuhs:

While I oppose trying to cast religion in the worst possible light, I don't see how genital mutilation or human sacrifice can crop up in places bereft of its influence.

More importantly, I don't know how such things can continue in an enlightened society without religious influence.

Yeah, pretty much this. I'm not sure if I'd go so far as to say that religion has a *unique* capacity for evil, i.e., that religion could convince somebody to do an act that's they'd never do under any other circumstance (look at atheist North Korea and only-really-nominally-Christian Nazi Germany), but certainly religious-type thinking is potentially very harmful. And, I can't think of anything more potent than religion when it comes to coercing people to commit acts that are against intuition, against their instinct and against their humanity.

I'm talking about an influence powerful enough to convince an otherwise loving mother that the "right thing to do" is to hold down her crying daughter to have her genitals mutilated, or an otherwise loving father to cast his gay son out because his sexuality makes him sinful and therefore unlovable. Religion has the power to make intelligent, rational scientists ignore the evidence that's staring them in the face. It has the power to quite literally traumatise children with the mental and emotional abuse that is the idea that they're being constantly watched and judged, and may indeed already be consigned to hell for being the wrong religion or the wrong sect or not having been baptised. Religion has the power to make people eager to blow themselves up or fly planes into skyscrapers.

Basically, religion is delusion. In its milder forms it might be benign or actually beneficial, but in it's purest, most literal form, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that it's the most dangerous, deadly stuff humanity has ever invented.

Zeconte:

Also, I have no freaking clue which tire company offers a $70 visa rebate with purchase, nor do I care, but does it give me that option? No, so I chose "None of these" which, of course, was the wrong answer. Dear Escapist, please stop passing off retarded advertisements as captchas.

Amen to that. Have the management of The Escapist not realised that good advertising is subtle? This sledgehammer approach is obnoxious enough for me to be taking an actual dislike to the process, the products involved and The Escapist itself. I'm *this* close to installing a certain piece of software which I'm not allowed to type the name of without incurring mod wrath.

Zeconte:

As for irreligious societies, I seem to be having trouble thinking of any beyond the Soviet Union and Communist China,

I would have said Scandinavia, but they're defacto Muslim these days...

There's been quite a few troubled people who had the church as their sole positive influence. Others could be the same with or without it depending on their upbringing.

Batou667:

Zeconte:

As for irreligious societies, I seem to be having trouble thinking of any beyond the Soviet Union and Communist China,

I would have said Scandinavia, but they're defacto Muslim these days...

I assume you're joking, but anyway...
Finland has Christianity as a state religion, in that both the orthodox and Lutheran churches are financially tied to the state, and they have some level of legal privilege above other churches, though we do have religious freedom.
Also, those without religion did not have full rights and privileges of a citizen until 1923, and the president used to appoint (or at least officially recognize) the bishops up until 2000.

nyysjan:
I assume you're joking, but anyway...
Finland has Christianity as a state religion, in that both the orthodox and Lutheran churches are financially tied to the state, and they have some level of legal privilege above other churches, though we do have religious freedom.
Also, those without religion did not have full rights and privileges of a citizen until 1923, and the president used to appoint (or at least officially recognize) the bishops up until 2000.

Strictly speaking, Finland isn't technically part of Scandinavia, only Denmark, Sweden and Norway are.

Which may or may not be the parts of a United Scandinavian Caliphate, but I'm guessing they aren't.

Hmmmm overall an interesting topic and I've seen many important qualifiers in this thread already which need to be taken into account for answering this question such as the importance of congregation, the ill-definedness of "religion" as a term and the separation between personal belief and the institutionalized version of religion. Still, I think an important facet has not been treated as I would have liked: to me it makes a lot of sense to try and understand "religion" more in a general tribalistic i.e. group-dynamical sense than to see it as an overall special thing to begin with.

A lot of appeal of religious groups stems not only from some shared belief in a higher power or appeal to tradition but by simply providing a strong sense of community upon which people can build their identities. It provides a safe haven and support for the people in the group while the out-group can be used for scapegoating, perceived threat or also a convenient source for identification ("not like them"). In this sense I don't think it is particularly different to other more "secular" tribal structures. Fans of football clubs for instance can also get violent as do nationalists or what have you. Other groups like some fraternities also have initiation rituals, probably not as violent, but serving the same means as circumcision i.e. to bind the people in the group by a common (usually painful) experience. Moreover in the same sense not all nationalists or all fans of football clubs or fraternity member define themselves to a significant degree with the group in question: what Batou exemplified in his post are extreme examples of identification with the label and the group in question. The adherence to the group has become the most integral part of the people in question such that the "belief" associated with the group has become by all means an ideology. Obviously this is easier when the people are indoctrinated or the "belief" is already extreme to begin with like, say, fascists or white supremacists. This is why congregation is such an important qualifier: not all "leftists" are automatically stalinistic communists but might be simple social-democrats whose policies and beliefs are much more benign and potentially far less harmful.

I emphasized that religious groups from this perspective aren't as different as secular groups - that, however, does not mean that they aren't: I think "religious belief" or rather the sort of "spiritual experience" or salient personal interest in the question of godhood and everything associated with it provides a centripetal force that drives these groups together. Plus, "religion" appeals to tradition and historically possesses a strong normative standing and a lot of adherents that ensure its continuation. Similar can not be said of many (and I'd say most) secular groups. So what about the question of the thread? Does "religious belief" dispose to radicalism such that one is good in spite of it? Does adherence to a "religious group" waste potential or is to be seen as a hindrance because religious groups are more prone to marginalizing viewpoints or more conservative policies in spite of their charitable efforts? I'd say that the former if we conceptualize it a centripetal force as I did before might do so: an intrinsic inclination towards group-thinking might make radicalisms more probable. However, the effect is likely to be small and the extend of this inclination is variable so this remains conjecture. The second is trickier: I can very much think that religious institutions have a disposition towards conservative policies both because of its historic origins that simply continue and also because the appeal to tradition I mentioned is probably an important part in legitimizing them so that their reluctance for more progressive policies makes sense. But this also depends strongly on what exact group or congregation we consider with some exploiting this for bigotry, others completely rejecting marginalizing policies and focusing on charitable humanism and thousands upon thousands of facets inbetween.

For evaluating the individual these questions largely depend on what viewpoints he or she endorses by adhering to a group and what the person in question does. I think that many people just stick to a specific religion because they grew up with it and really don't care much about the implications which is why I don't really see the need to hate on them if they do something good which is, frankly, more than most people do. However, they should be made to reflect on what they endorse by adhering to a specific congregation so criticism is good. If their belief is particularly extreme this point might become more important than the work they do as everything they do automatically acts an advertisement for the position of their congregation. This is especially true for the types with strong "spiritual feelings" as they are automatically inclined to adhere to these groups and should not allow this personal feeling to cloud their judgement.

All in all I think the sentence "good in spite of religion" is a misnomer: good and bad behaviour is the nature of the beast when it comes group dynamics so singling out religion here doesn't make much sense overall. Do I think these groups have drawbacks to secular groups? Certainly. Still, the question of "how much?" is very much debatable.

EDIT: Just realized I forgot something....

Skeleon:

Here's a rather provocative post by well-known Atheist+ (hated by a lot of non-plus Atheists to my understanding, but that's a different issue) PZ Myers regarding Catholicism. [...]

Would you mind explaining what on earth an "plus" or "non-plus" Atheist is supposed to be? First time I heard those two qualifiers....

Batou667:

I would have said Scandinavia, but they're defacto Muslim these days...

Say what? Is this supposed to be a joke or something? If it is, it isn't particularly obvious that it is.

Halyah:

Batou667:

I would have said Scandinavia, but they're defacto Muslim these days...

Say what? Is this supposed to be a joke or something? If it is, it isn't particularly obvious that it is.

Well, there are significantly more Muslims in Scandinavia than there were in Mohammed's day, and they've gotten into the news about various things.

Any increase of a minority looks like an invasion or domination by certain people in the majority.

Although I guess you could say that since Islam is getting more important, its taking over, just very very slowly.

Batou667:

I would have said Scandinavia, but they're defacto Muslim these days...

Halyah:
Say what? Is this supposed to be a joke or something? If it is, it isn't particularly obvious that it is.

nyysjan:
I assume you're joking, but anyway...

It was *supposed* to be a wry comment on the Scandinavian nations, particularly Sweden, and their current immigration policies. I guess it sounded wittier in my head before I typed it.

thaluikhain:

Halyah:

Batou667:

I would have said Scandinavia, but they're defacto Muslim these days...

Say what? Is this supposed to be a joke or something? If it is, it isn't particularly obvious that it is.

Well, there are significantly more Muslims in Scandinavia than there were in Mohammed's day, and they've gotten into the news about various things.

Any increase of a minority looks like an invasion or domination by certain people in the majority.

Although I guess you could say that since Islam is getting more important, its taking over, just very very slowly.

Can't say I've really noticed it here in norway despite living in a region with the closest approximation to an industrial center you can get in this tiny nation. 'course I don't regularly read the papers so I might've missed something. That and it not fitting the general move towards secularism that seems to be going on kind of threw me off(we don't have a state church anymore for example).

Batou667:

Batou667:

I would have said Scandinavia, but they're defacto Muslim these days...

Halyah:
Say what? Is this supposed to be a joke or something? If it is, it isn't particularly obvious that it is.

nyysjan:
I assume you're joking, but anyway...

It was *supposed* to be a wry comment on the Scandinavian nations, particularly Sweden, and their current immigration policies. I guess it sounded wittier in my head before I typed it.

I thought you were joking yeah, but I've seen so many say that sort of thing while being dead serious that it's hard to tell the difference without body language and tone of voice behind it.

Skeleon:

Now hold on, the problem with FGM (and circumcision) isn't that it's done, period. It's that it's done to children who have no say in the matter. You'd need to find a reason why a non-religious society would do something like that to a child. It's the lack of self-determination that's the big gripe for opponents on these issues, not the "body modding" or whatever in itself.

Ear piercings are often done to infants these days. I'm pretty sure the infants aren't deciding that.

tstorm823:
Ear piercings are often done to infants these days. I'm pretty sure the infants aren't deciding that.

Ear piercings heal up on their own with time. A chopped-off clitoris, labia or foreskin doesn't grow back.

Even if we approach it from the angle of self-determination, of making decisions on behalf of our children, yeah, that happens all the time. It's an issue of how reasonable, potentially harmful, or gratuitous those decisions are though. You're forbidden by law from naming your son Sonic The Hedgehog because it's a gratuitous abuse of authority - despite the existence of deed polls - and yet you're allowed to have him ritually mutilated in an irreversible medical procedure. It's insanity.

Before I go into responding to the larger thread (that'll take more time than I have currently)...

@Chromatic Aberration

Would you mind explaining what on earth an "plus" or "non-plus" Atheist is supposed to be? First time I heard those two qualifiers....

...it's my way to refer to Atheism+ and the alternative for the sake of the flow of the text.
Basically, Atheism+ is a movement within current New Atheist groups that seeks to add issues of social justice, gender equality, homosexual rights etc. to the relative void that Atheism usually is.
Currently, the biggest shitstorms tend to revolve around issues of sexism/misogynism, like "Elevatorgate" (god, how I hate them adding "-gate" to everything), in which a guy basically propositioned to a girl on an elevator alone at night and she complained about it, feeling uncomfortable and even kind of threatened because of the enclosed situation. Maybe I oversimplified it, but you can look it up for the details if you're curious. But it and similar issues are too much to get into now; there is a RationalWiki page for reference on the group itself, though:
http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Atheism_Plus
PZ Myers is one of the more prominent people in that movement, but hated by a lot of - peeking at the current Critical Miss cartoon; I actually had to have that one explained to me - fedora-wearing Atheists out there who think feminism tends towards unfairly attacking males or even outright persecuting them or whatever.
It can get quite annoying when both sides drive each other into a frenzy, but overall I tend to agree more with the Atheism+ side of things than their detractors. It gets really messy quite often, though.
And not just on feminism/misogynism, but also homophobia, transphobia, racism etc.; there are a lot of Atheists out there who don't really embrace notions of equality so much.

@tstorm823

Ear piercings are often done to infants these days. I'm pretty sure the infants aren't deciding that.

Hm, infants? Younger than two years?! That's not okay in my book, either. Way too young. But at least it's nowhere near as invasive as FGM or circumcision and it's not as permanent. But, sure, I never said FGM and circumcision were the only things that some parents do that go too far.

The inherent problems with religion have to do with the people within them holding beliefs that are lies and/or can't be proven to be true. I am guessing from the posts in this thread that a lot of you don't deal very often with evangelicals.
I do, and I find it highly amusing when people say "religion isn't inherently bad."

Its like when people say guns are just tools. Yes that gun is just a tool and yes their are other ways to kill people. But, guns are much more efficient than a lot of other ways to kill and they can be used by anybody no matter how stupid. A guns only purpose is to kill, and a religions only purpose is to control people and almost always through deceit. To partially quote Bill Maher: Religion is the only reason that a 1000+ year old child sex ring is able to keep its customers coming back.

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