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Utility of Religions

Alan Ryan

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It is misguided to criticise or perhaps to reject religious beliefs as "popular delusions" or comfort blankets for the insecure, etc. On the contrary, it can be argued that objectively examined, religions have social, economic, and cultural payoffs.

1): The social payoff : Belief in a benevolent god and the reward of a spiritual afterlife that depends on good behaviour, gives authority to an absolute moral code which encourages social cohesion and quietism, and reconciles the irrational masses to their fate. By-products should include peace and security with less crime and "immorality", and a desirable curb on irregular conduct.

2): The economic payoff : An increase in employment created by the building of churches, temples, meeting houses, watchtowers, etc., together with the manufacture of ecclesiastical costumes and religious artefacts. Perhaps if the clergy were employed as salaried officials of the state (with apprenticeships for young would-be preachers), a useful number of potentially idle members of society could be enticed off the dole and enrolled into the priesthood.

3): The cultural payoff : There would be an increase in aesthetic activities - with more church music, rituals, processions, religious dancing, curious sermons, sacred festivals, and holidays etc.

The "educated elite" of course would be expected to "go through the motions" and dissemble a pious belief in the "truths" of the state religion. This would be a necessary dissimulation in order to maintain the public credibility of religious faith. Privately, the usual scepticism, cynicism, and atheism would continue to characterise the attitudes of the ruling class.
 

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The world is divided in two groups; those with religion and no brains, and those with brains and no religion...
 

Alan Ryan

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Norwegian Cat said:
The world is divided in two groups; those with religion and no brains, and those with brains and no religion...
Perhaps: but your glib generalisation in no way addresses, still less demolishes my "theory" of religious utility.
 

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Alan Ryan said:
1): The social payoff : Belief in a benevolent god and the reward of a spiritual afterlife that depends on good behaviour, gives authority to an absolute moral code which encourages social cohesion and quietism, and reconciles the irrational masses to their fate. By-products should include peace and security with less crime and "immorality", and a desirable curb on irregular conduct.
Yeah, but the only benevolent god in a monotheist religion is the christian god.

BTW, how du you upload pictures?
 

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Your "theory" is quite nice, Alan, but religion has many negative points too; slow cientific progress, fanatism (you can see what islam is doing with people), etc.
 

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Alan Ryan said:
1): The social payoff : Belief in a benevolent god and the reward of a spiritual afterlife that depends on good behaviour, gives authority to an absolute moral code which encourages social cohesion and quietism, and reconciles the irrational masses to their fate. By-products should include peace and security with less crime and "immorality", and a desirable curb on irregular conduct.
This is the only payoff that occurs that would not otherwise occur, and it is the most important of the three in any case.

If religion could be harnessed in such a way as to yield this benefit without bringing along with it the horrors that at least western religions do, I'd go to services diligently ;) Before the British got hold of Hinduism in India, it showed alot of promise, and Buddhism sometimes seems to as well. I don't like the way these religions have reportedly treated women in the past, however. And the Zen Buddhists in Japan actually counselled the Kamikaze Pilots during WW2 that it was ok to kill themselves for spiritual gain, similar to the way Christians and Muslims allow their religions to be used.

You say that great morality can arise through the use of religion. I say I doubt it can be shown that the benefit came without great evil, over time.

My understanding is that large parts of Europe are Atheist. Is there more crime in Europe than exists in America?
 

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If religion could be harnessed in such a way as to yield this benefit without bringing along with it the horrors that at least western religions do, I'd go to services diligently Before the British got hold of Hinduism in India, it showed alot of promise, and Buddhism sometimes seems to as well. I don't like the way these religions have reportedly treated women in the past, however. And the Zen Buddhists in Japan actually counselled the Kamikaze Pilots during WW2 that it was ok to kill themselves for spiritual gain, similar to the way Christians and Muslims allow their religions to be used.

i gotta add, being a hindu, that the best thing about it is that in its scriptures the vedas, it actually says that "there may be a god there may be not, it's up to the mind to discover the truth." The basic tenet of it is that as long as you live your life to find the truth, you are a hindu. So basically I remained Hindu, despite being atheist for quite a while.
 

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Dezaad said:
This is the only payoff that occurs that would not otherwise occur, and it is the most important of the three in any case.
I agree,this is the most important "payoff": but a state sponsored religion might conceivably increase employment - though taxes would have to rise in order to pay for the hiring of preachers and the building of churches etc.
Dezaad said:
If religion could be harnessed in such a way as to yield this benefit without bringing along with it the horrors that at least western religions do, I'd go to services diligently ;) Before the British got hold of Hinduism in India, it showed alot of promise, and Buddhism sometimes seems to as well.
I'm not sure that Buddhism counts as a religion: isn't it more of a "philosophy of life" rather than a theological institution ?
Dezaad said:
You say that great morality can arise through the use of religion. I say I doubt it can be shown that the benefit came without great evil, over time.
I only assert that religion gives a "supernatural" authority for a moral code and has metaphysical sanctions for those who do not abide by it - not that evil will be extirpated by the raising of religious consciousness.
Dezaad said:
My understanding is that large parts of Europe are Atheist. Is there more crime in Europe than exists in America?
Your assumption here seems to be that widespread atheism provides fertile ground for the growth of criminality ? This would be very difficult, if not impossible to demonstrate. I merely contend that religions help to "keep the lid" on human volatility.
 

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Alan Ryan said:
It is misguided to criticise or perhaps to reject religious beliefs as "popular delusions" or comfort blankets for the insecure, etc. On the contrary, it can be argued that objectively examined, religions have social, economic, and cultural payoffs.

1): The social payoff : Belief in a benevolent god and the reward of a spiritual afterlife that depends on good behaviour, gives authority to an absolute moral code which encourages social cohesion and quietism, and reconciles the irrational masses to their fate. By-products should include peace and security with less crime and "immorality", and a desirable curb on irregular conduct.

2): The economic payoff : An increase in employment created by the building of churches, temples, meeting houses, watchtowers, etc., together with the manufacture of ecclesiastical costumes and religious artefacts. Perhaps if the clergy were employed as salaried officials of the state (with apprenticeships for young would-be preachers), a useful number of potentially idle members of society could be enticed off the dole and enrolled into the priesthood.

3): The cultural payoff : There would be an increase in aesthetic activities - with more church music, rituals, processions, religious dancing, curious sermons, sacred festivals, and holidays etc.

The "educated elite" of course would be expected to "go through the motions" and dissemble a pious belief in the "truths" of the state religion. This would be a necessary dissimulation in order to maintain the public credibility of religious faith. Privately, the usual scepticism, cynicism, and atheism would continue to characterise the attitudes of the ruling class.
I cannot believe I just read this. Someone in the year 2005 wants a religious state. Especially with all the horrors we know that can happen as a result of this. We are all aware of muslim controlled countries (not all of course, but most).

All of these things can exist without religion. Moral values are not religion based. They are individual based. The individual establishes their morals at some point in their life and then fits them with a religion if they choose to. Sometime these morals are the same as the religion that they were raised in, and sometimes not. That is why so many people seek other religions than the ones they were raised with. With your stated logic, the increase in non-religious people would lead to higher crime rates. This is just not true. Non-religious people have more than doubled in the time between 1990 and 2001.

Source:
http://www.gc.cuny.edu/faculty/research_briefs/aris/key_findings.htm

Violent crime rates have fallen 15% and property crime rates fell 10% between 1999 and 2000.

Source:
http://search.usdoj.gov/compass?scope=crime+rates&ui=sr&view-template=dojsimple
Then download #1.

Non-religious people have increased yet crime has decreased. This takes away your theory that...

Belief in a benevolent god and the reward of a spiritual afterlife that depends on good behaviour, gives authority to an absolute moral code which encourages social cohesion and quietism, and reconciles the irrational masses to their fate. By-products should include peace and security with less crime and "immorality", and a desirable curb on irregular conduct
 
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Why should people be treated by idiots. That the only reason you should behave is that if you've been a naughty boy, you will burn in the cauldron of hell?

My moral code is based on universal humanitarianism. Sure many theologians, my ask, 'If you are atheist what is stopping you from killing another person?' But you see if I kill someone else, I have prevented them from living out their life to the fullest, and therefore ended their liberty to live as a free person. The pain and suffering you cause to other people, also prevents themselves from living their life to the fullest of their capabilities. Etc.

As for all the social good religion has brought. Hah. Try telling that to the people that have suffered sectarian violance in Northern Ireland. Or to the people of Iraq, that could see their country dissintergrate into a civil war.
 

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alex said:
I cannot believe I just read this. Someone in the year 2005 wants a religious state. Especially with all the horrors we know that can happen as a result of this. We are all aware of muslim controlled countries (not all of course, but most).
You haven't read very carefully, Alex: I'm making a "case" for the utility of religion, not the foundation of a theocratic state. It would be possible, for another example, to make a case for barter without wanting to do away with money.

alex said:
All of these things can exist without religion. Moral values are not religion based. They are individual based. The individual establishes their morals at some point in their life and then fits them with a religion if they choose to. Sometime these morals are the same as the religion that they were raised in, and sometimes not. That is why so many people seek other religions than the ones they were raised with. With your stated logic, the increase in non-religious people would lead to higher crime rates. This is just not true. Non-religious people have more than doubled in the time between 1990 and 2001.
Until the secular enlightenment, all moral values were thought to be based on religious doctrines of one sort or another: many people still believe in moral absolutes handed down by a supernatural agency. The whole point here is that such beliefs lead to easier social control of the "irrational masses".

You evidently paid no attention to the qualifiers in my final paragraph, nor, apparently, did you notice the implicit irony.

Incidentally, this "theory" is really ancient history: it's been circulating since at least Roman times.
 

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Alan Ryan said:
You haven't read very carefully, Alex: I'm making a "case" for the utility of religion, not the foundation of a theocratic state. It would be possible, for another example, to make a case for barter without wanting to do away with money.


Until the secular enlightenment, all moral values were thought to be based on religious doctrines of one sort or another: many people still believe in moral absolutes handed down by a supernatural agency. The whole point here is that such beliefs lead to easier social control of the "irrational masses".

You evidently paid no attention to the qualifiers in my final paragraph, nor, apparently, did you notice the implicit irony.

Incidentally, this "theory" is really ancient history: it's been circulating since at least Roman times.
It is ancient history for a reason. Prove that more religion will cause greater morals. I have already shown that is incorrect.
 

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alex said:
It is ancient history for a reason. Prove that more religion will cause greater morals. I have already shown that is incorrect.
You've "shown" no such thing: you have merely asserted an opinion about the process of acquiring a personal code of morals. The case is arguable.

As for "proof" - we are not talking here about matters of fact that are susceptible to (probable) proof by demonstration and the citation of evidence etc. You should distinguish between speculative propositions and indubitable facts.

What exactly do you mean by "greater morals" ?
 

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Alan Ryan said:
It is misguided to criticise or perhaps to reject religious beliefs as "popular delusions" or comfort blankets for the insecure, etc. On the contrary, it can be argued that objectively examined, religions have social, economic, and cultural payoffs.
Alan Ryan said:
1): The social payoff : Belief in a benevolent god and the reward of a spiritual afterlife that depends on good behaviour, gives authority to an absolute moral code which encourages social cohesion and quietism, and reconciles the irrational masses to their fate. By-products should include peace and security with less crime and "immorality", and a desirable curb on irregular conduct.
This is great when religion is left to the individual to choose and come to terms with. However, state sponsored religion leads to that religion justifying the actions of the state no matter what the moral consequence.

.
Alan Ryan said:
2): The economic payoff : An increase in employment created by the building of churches, temples, meeting houses, watchtowers, etc., together with the manufacture of ecclesiastical costumes and religious artefacts. Perhaps if the clergy were employed as salaried officials of the state (with apprenticeships for young would-be preachers), a useful number of potentially idle members of society could be enticed off the dole and enrolled into the priesthood.
Again, this is great except for one thing: what happens when these officials of the state become fanatical in their belief in both the religion and the state? Consider the Egyptian's enslavement of the Hebrews and how they forced them to build the monuments of the Egyptian religious obsession: the after life and pyramids of the Pharoahs. Surely you have to admit that when you give religion a state endorsed status, the politics of the state will become entwined with the doctrine of that religion. I just think this leads to corruption of the religion and gives credence to the already inherent corruption of a political body.

.
Alan Ryan said:
3): The cultural payoff : There would be an increase in aesthetic activities - with more church music, rituals, processions, religious dancing, curious sermons, sacred festivals, and holidays etc.
There is no argument against this...when the religion becomes a part of life for the culture, then monuments and gathering places are built for the purpose of edifying not only the religion, but the culture in general.

.
Alan Ryan said:
The "educated elite" of course would be expected to "go through the motions" and dissemble a pious belief in the "truths" of the state religion. This would be a necessary dissimulation in order to maintain the public credibility of religious faith. Privately, the usual scepticism, cynicism, and atheism would continue to characterise the attitudes of the ruling class.
Why should this privilege of free thought be specific to the ruling class? I see how efficient that is from both a logical standpoint and observance of the past. But I just dont see where that is right and good. If the religion is not serving the purpose of bringing every man to enlightenment and joy, then it is not a utility, but a burden on the society.
 
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Alan Ryan

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jallman said:
Why should this privilege of free thought be specific to the ruling class? I see how efficient that is from both a logical standpoint and observance of the past. But I just dont see where that is right and good. If the religion is not serving the purpose of bringing every man to enlightenment and joy, then it is not a utility, but a burden on the society.
Free thought isn't a privilege specific to the ruling class- it's probably an attitude (of skepticism) towards the "norms" of the age that is acquired by the educated elite. I suggest that its opposite - i.e. "prescribed thought" - is useful as a form of social control and helps keep the credulous masses "in their place".

Of course this is a cynical view that makes little allowance for what is right and good: but isn't this merely an instance of how social hierarchies are maintained ? It is a little more subtle than overt political manipulation because the utility of religion (as a form of prescribed thought) consists in taking advantage of irrational impulses.
 

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Alan Ryan said:
Free thought isn't a privilege specific to the ruling class- it's probably an attitude (of skepticism) towards the "norms" of the age that is acquired by the educated elite. I suggest that its opposite - i.e. "prescribed thought" - is useful as a form of social control and helps keep the credulous masses "in their place".

Of course this is a cynical view that makes little allowance for what is right and good: but isn't this merely an instance of how social hierarchies are maintained ? It is a little more subtle than overt political manipulation because the utility of religion (as a form of prescribed thought) consists in taking advantage of irrational impulses.
See, I just have a problem with the use of the term "educated elite" which I probably should have clarified in my earlier post. Why is it that there should be a distinction between the educations of the "elite" ie ruling classes and those of "the credulous masses". Institutionalizing religion leads to that religion deciding who gets educated and who does not...as in the case of the Catholic Church during the dark ages making the power to read an elite privilege. All interpretation of doctrine concerning spiritual matters falls into the sole ownership of the Church and those that will promote its agenda. The duties of the Church...a supposed spiritual institution...becomes interrelated with the struggles of the state...a secular institution. By that fact, the religion becomes corrupt and useless because it simply becomes an arm of the state.

I dont deny the logic of tying the church and state together, I just dont see where it makes the religion a utility. I think the religion becomes simply another political party with its own agenda within the state.
 

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jallman said:
See, I just have a problem with the use of the term "educated elite" which I probably should have clarified in my earlier post. Why is it that there should be a distinction between the educations of the "elite" ie ruling classes and those of "the credulous masses".
Many people do feel uncomfortable with the notion of an "educated elite", but it is a social reality. However, it is not quite correct to identify the "ruling class" with the collectivity of cultivated intellects that we may define as the "educated elite". Perhaps they have this interest in common - i.e. that the masses should be diverted from the lure of revolutionary politics: this is just another way of emphasising the utility of religions.
jallman said:
Institutionalizing religion leads to that religion deciding who gets educated and who does not...as in the case of the Catholic Church during the dark ages making the power to read an elite privilege. All interpretation of doctrine concerning spiritual matters falls into the sole ownership of the Church and those that will promote its agenda. The duties of the Church...a supposed spiritual institution...becomes interrelated with the struggles of the state...a secular institution. By that fact, the religion becomes corrupt and useless because it simply becomes an arm of the state.
Institutionalizing religion can also be a means of effecting social mobility. In the Dark Ages to which you refer, it was often possible for a member of the ignorant multitude to acquire an influential place among the privileged elite by becoming literate - usually by entering the priesthood. The status quo was consolidated rather than attenuated by such means. (Again religion appears in this guise as a useful social tool).
jallman said:
I dont deny the logic of tying the church and state together, I just dont see where it makes the religion a utility. I think the religion becomes simply another political party with its own agenda within the state.
It has been said that the majority of men have no opinions, and these have to be pumped into them from outside, like lubricants into machinery. Thus it is necessary that some minds or other should hold and exercise authority, so that the people without opinions - the majority - can start have the "correct" opinions. Again, this supposition leads to the claim that religion has a social utility. Does this further amplification make the case more persuasive ?
 

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Alan Ryan said:
Many people do feel uncomfortable with the notion of an "educated elite", but it is a social reality. However, it is not quite correct to identify the "ruling class" with the collectivity of cultivated intellects that we may define as the "educated elite". Perhaps they have this interest in common - i.e. that the masses should be diverted from the lure of revolutionary politics: this is just another way of emphasising the utility of religions.
I suppose that is true, but you are inadvertantly making a strong case for limiting education too, which I find deplorable. If everyone has free access to education (as it should be) then who remains part of the "credulous masses"? In your argument, you make a case for the educated to know better than not to question this religion. The religion serves to be a morality police for the state? And why should we divert the masses from the lure of revolutionary politics? Doesnt seem very productive, because as this religion feels more justified controlling the attitudes of the state and the people, then you would see a diversion from revolutionary art and philosophy and science. Again, that kind of backwards thought makes the religion not a utility, but a burden.

Alan Ryan said:
Institutionalizing religion can also be a means of effecting social mobility. In the Dark Ages to which you refer, it was often possible for a member of the ignorant multitude to acquire an influential place among the privileged elite by becoming literate - usually by entering the priesthood. The status quo was consolidated rather than attenuated by such means. (Again religion appears in this guise as a useful social tool).
Again, free thought is clearly going to take a back seat to this religions agenda. Yes, you can effect social mobility by entering the priesthood, but that just means you have to be indoctrinated into the thought and attitude of the religion. Do you think for one minute if Pat Roberts had run of a state funded school, he would allow a Jew who didnt "repent" of his Judaism to attend? God forbid it were a liberal who tried to get in. The only social changes affected are those the religion/state would ordain. Again, the usefulness seems to be just what you said, a guise and nothing more.

Alan Ryan said:
It has been said that the majority of men have no opinions, and these have to be pumped into them from outside, like lubricants into machinery. Thus it is necessary that some minds or other should hold and exercise authority, so that the people without opinions - the majority - can start have the "correct" opinions. Again, this supposition leads to the claim that religion has a social utility. Does this further amplification make the case more persuasive ?
I dont think that the majority of men have no opinions; I think the majority of men dont take time to engage in thought provoking debate like this. That doesnt mean they arent entitled to the liberty of maintaining those private opinions. And those minds should not have an authority over the majority, but rather an impartial responsibility to present many opinions and to encourage the desire te reflect and come to comfortable beliefs based on the experience and heart of the individual. The state has a responsibility to allow like minded individuals to practice their beliefs and debate their cases in forums they find most fitting...and to allow as many such forums/churches/meetings to exist and to police the public practice of religion against infringement on any other group that chooses not to take part. So no, that amplification does not make the case more persuasive, it makes it more abhorrent.
 

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jallman said:
I suppose that is true, but you are inadvertantly making a strong case for limiting education too, which I find deplorable. If everyone has free access to education (as it should be) then who remains part of the "credulous masses"? In your argument, you make a case for the educated to know better than not to question this religion. The religion serves to be a morality police for the state? And why should we divert the masses from the lure of revolutionary politics? Doesnt seem very productive, because as this religion feels more justified controlling the attitudes of the state and the people, then you would see a diversion from revolutionary art and philosophy and science. Again, that kind of backwards thought makes the religion not a utility, but a burden.
Education is a self-limiting process. Isn't it probably true that only a small minority have the disposition and intellectual abilities to benefit from the higher forms of education that are an admission ticket to the ranks of the governing elite ?
From a certain perspective, it is essential to divert the masses from their cravings for disorder. (Though a libertarian might argue that a certain amount of "social entropy" should be tolerated as part of the price we pay for liberty). Religious indoctrination can inculcate a respect for authority and a moral code which are a very useful tools in controlling the irrational desires and irregular activities of the multitude. Such outcomes can hardly be considered a "burden" by those who profit from them.
jallman said:
Again, free thought is clearly going to take a back seat to this religions agenda. Yes, you can effect social mobility by entering the priesthood, but that just means you have to be indoctrinated into the thought and attitude of the religion. Do you think for one minute if Pat Roberts had run of a state funded school, he would allow a Jew who didnt "repent" of his Judaism to attend? God forbid it were a liberal who tried to get in. The only social changes affected are those the religion/state would ordain. Again, the usefulness seems to be just what you said, a guise and nothing more.
What you call "free thought" is not available to people who cannot think for themselves and have their political opinions predigested and fed to them by the media. Religion, appealing largely to the emotions, assuages the feelings of alienation and intellectual impotence which is experienced by the literally thoughtless. Dispassionate enquiry has never been an activity that appeals to a majority: religious faith helps to fill the void in a world where the life of the "average mind" seems pretty vacuous.


jallman said:
I dont think that the majority of men have no opinions; I think the majority of men dont take time to engage in thought provoking debate like this. That doesnt mean they arent entitled to the liberty of maintaining those private opinions. And those minds should not have an authority over the majority, but rather an impartial responsibility to present many opinions and to encourage the desire te reflect and come to comfortable beliefs based on the experience and heart of the individual. The state has a responsibility to allow like minded individuals to practice their beliefs and debate their cases in forums they find most fitting...and to allow as many such forums/churches/meetings to exist and to police the public practice of religion against infringement on any other group that chooses not to take part. So no, that amplification does not make the case more persuasive, it makes it more abhorrent.
This is the counsel of the liberal conscience. Liberty of opinions and the impartial responsibility to encourage dissent, debate, reflection, etc. - these are quite recent innovations and there is no reason to suppose that in time they will not be renounced. It has been said that permanence is a delusion of every age, but it’s especially powerful in our time, reinforced by electronic media and other apparent marvels that make ours much more of a present-tense culture than that of our grandfathers. We can hardly imagine a future in which our present social, political, and cultural assumptions could be abandoned.
 

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Alan Ryan said:
Education is a self-limiting process. Isn't it probably true that only a small minority have the disposition and intellectual abilities to benefit from the higher forms of education that are an admission ticket to the ranks of the governing elite ?
Well, yes education is a self-limiting process. To allow a state religion to involve itself in that process is to throw off the equilibrium and natural stratefication that will come about in a society free of the burden of spiritual thought control. And true, the disposition to take on the challenge of higher education should be PART of the admission into the ranks of a governing elite. Other factors should include a personal moral directive to bear that responsibility with selfless devotion to the people who are represented. It should also bear with it the impartiality to ensure that all citizens have access to those tools which grant social mobility and leave it to them to make use of what is offered or not. These responsibilities should not be entrusted in any way to a religious dogma or doctrine but rather should be willfully kept out of the hands of such a potential for repression and oppression.

Alan Ryan said:
From a certain perspective, it is essential to divert the masses from their cravings for disorder. (Though a libertarian might argue that a certain amount of "social entropy" should be tolerated as part of the price we pay for liberty). Religious indoctrination can inculcate a respect for authority and a moral code which are a very useful tools in controlling the irrational desires and irregular activities of the multitude. Such outcomes can hardly be considered a "burden" by those who profit from them.
And you state my point without realizing it. Religious indoctrination does impose a respect for authority and moral code, but typically only the authority of that religion. To instill that kind of broad indoctrination into aspects of government and law and the state is to devolve the purpose of religion as a spiritual pursuit to merely serve as a justification for corruption and prejudice within the governing body. Of course this would not be considered a burden by those who profit. But what of the mass of people within a culture/society/state who dont profit? Is it worth the oppression and loss of inherent ability to choose?

What you call "free thought" is not available to people who cannot think for themselves and have their political opinions predigested and fed to them by the media. Religion, appealing largely to the emotions, assuages the feelings of alienation and intellectual impotence which is experienced by the literally thoughtless. Dispassionate enquiry has never been an activity that appeals to a majority: religious faith helps to fill the void in a world where the life of the "average mind" seems pretty vacuous.
Religion does not speak to the intellect but rather to the spirit and the heart. In its pure form, unfettered by corruption and greed, it serves to edify man and grant him the moral directive to live a good life, serving mankind in whatever capacity he can. It incites a confidence in man that he has a higher purpose and a reason to motivate toward further enlightenment through thought of the divine and how to better himself in an effort to be more pleasing to his maker.

So you see, by tying religion in with politics, you debase the religion and create a system of spiritual entropy where man's sights cannot be set higher than the earthly government endorsed by that religion. The inherent corruption of the ruling class would lead to the religion being used simply to divert the lower classes from thinking beyond the authority of earthly administration and seeking higher communion with the Divine. In essence, you take away man's justifications for individuality and replace them with mindless servitude to what will surely become a subversive dual headed master.


Alan Ryan said:
This is the counsel of the liberal conscience. Liberty of opinions and the impartial responsibility to encourage dissent, debate, reflection, etc. - these are quite recent innovations and there is no reason to suppose that in time they will not be renounced. It has been said that permanence is a delusion of every age, but it’s especially powerful in our time, reinforced by electronic media and other apparent marvels that make ours much more of a present-tense culture than that of our grandfathers. We can hardly imagine a future in which our present social, political, and cultural assumptions could be abandoned.
The impartial responsibility to encourage dissent is a recent innovation, but man's active desire to do so is nothing new at all. If it were, then we would not have the acceptance of this desire as we do today. It has been a constant development throughout history leads us to this conclusion: Not only is it a futile exercise to suppress man's desire to question authority, but it is tantamoutly immoral and unnecessary. Religion has its place in the hearts of men and in giving them purpose, but it has no place in government.
 
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Alan Ryan

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jallman said:
Well, yes education is a self-limiting process. To allow a state religion to involve itself in that process is to throw off the equilibrium and natural stratefication that will come about in a society free of the burden of spiritual thought control. And true, the disposition to take on the challenge of higher education should be PART of the admission into the ranks of a governing elite. Other factors should include a personal moral directive to bear that responsibility with selfless devotion to the people who are represented. It should also bear with it the impartiality to ensure that all citizens have access to those tools which grant social mobility and leave it to them to make use of what is offered or not. These responsibilities should not be entrusted in any way to a religious dogma or doctrine but rather should be willfully kept out of the hands of such a potential for repression and oppression.
Your criteria for admission into the "governing elite" is almost impossibly rigorous. Perhaps in an ideal society the moral responsibility, selfless devotion and impartiality to which you refer, would characterise members of the educated minority. But in this imperfect world which we happen to inhabit, cynical calculation, vanity, perfidy and duplicity are more likely to shape the self-interested behaviour of even the cultivated individuals who exercise power. This rather Machiavellian view seems to correspond to social reality better than the idealism I've inferred from your observations.
jallman said:
Religion does not speak to the intellect but rather to the spirit and the heart. In its pure form, unfettered by corruption and greed, it serves to edify man and grant him the moral directive to live a good life, serving mankind in whatever capacity he can. It incites a confidence in man that he has a higher purpose and a reason to motivate toward further enlightenment through thought of the divine and how to better himself in an effort to be more pleasing to his maker.
So you see, by tying religion in with politics, you debase the religion and create a system of spiritual entropy where man's sights cannot be set higher than the earthly government endorsed by that religion. The inherent corruption of the ruling class would lead to the religion being used simply to divert the lower classes from thinking beyond the authority of earthly administration and seeking higher communion with the Divine. In essence, you take away man's justifications for individuality and replace them with mindless servitude to what will surely become a subversive dual headed master.
It is precisely because religion "speaks to the heart" (rather than engage the rational faculties) that it has such potent political utility. A banal example: it has often been suggested that Adolf Hitler acquired and maintained control over a highly civilised nation by projecting National Socialism as a mesmerising quasi-religious cult. He addressed the "spiritual hunger" of the German people with just the kind of mystical message that would virtually ensure their willing servitude. Doesn't this hit my point on the head with a hammer ?
jallman said:
The impartial responsibility to encourage dissent is a recent innovation, but man's active desire to do so is nothing new at all. If it were, then we would not have the acceptance of this desire as we do today. It has been a constant development throughout history leads us to this conclusion: Not only is it a futile exercise to suppress man's desire to question authority, but it is tantamoutly immoral and unnecessary. Religion has its place in the hearts of men and in giving them purpose, but it has no place in government.
I'm tempted to agree with your sentiments here - but in my capacity as devil's advocate, I must doubt the perennial desire to question authority that you discover in history. On the contrary, the uneducated masses usually create tumults not to question the political authority of the ruling class, but in order to draw attention to their material wants and to advertise their economic grievances. Sometimes the true nature of their grievances are disguised (even from themselves) under the cloak of fanatical religion; but this is to the advantage of (secularised) governors because it costs them little or nothing to make religious concessions in place of devolving some of their power to the people.
 

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Your criteria for admission into the "governing elite" is almost impossibly rigorous. Perhaps in an ideal society the moral responsibility, selfless devotion and impartiality to which you refer, would characterise members of the educated minority. But in this imperfect world which we happen to inhabit, cynical calculation, vanity, perfidy and duplicity are more likely to shape the self-interested behaviour of even the cultivated individuals who exercise power. This rather Machiavellian view seems to correspond to social reality better than the idealism I've inferred from your observations.
Well, being that we do live in an imperfect world in which a governing body already exhibits the flaws you listed, isnt it better to keep it in check with the only devices we have...the constant and aggressive questioning of that governing body, along with a consistent overturning of that administration through re-election process? Including religion in the power schema of this political body would make such a process and system of safeguards impossible. Religious study tends to be a lifelong pursuit, and thus develops a sort of stagnation within a generation of priests. Some would call this a development of tradition. This leads to the religious class having far too much control over the rising ruling classes and an inevitable corruption of the Church as their attentions turn more and more to maintaining that political control. The religion would in time become the ruling class, even if somewhat behind the scene.

It is precisely because religion "speaks to the heart" (rather than engage the rational faculties) that it has such potent political utility. A banal example: it has often been suggested that Adolf Hitler acquired and maintained control over a highly civilised nation by projecting National Socialism as a mesmerising quasi-religious cult. He addressed the "spiritual hunger" of the German people with just the kind of mystical message that would virtually ensure their willing servitude. Doesn't this hit my point on the head with a hammer ?
Actually, I think it hits both our points nicely. Yes, religion is a powerful tool for controling the masses when tied to a political body. But the inevitable corruption and lack of a means to keep it in check makes the religion more of a burden than a help. Look at the example you used and learn from history. I am sure there is no need to insult your intelligence by expounding on this point.

I'm tempted to agree with your sentiments here - but in my capacity as devil's advocate, I must doubt the perennial desire to question authority that you discover in history. On the contrary, the uneducated masses usually create tumults not to question the political authority of the ruling class, but in order to draw attention to their material wants and to advertise their economic grievances. Sometimes the true nature of their grievances are disguised (even from themselves) under the cloak of fanatical religion; but this is to the advantage of (secularised) governors because it costs them little or nothing to make religious concessions in place of devolving some of their power to the people.
And as I pointed out, this may work for a short time, but what of the fanatical religious traditionalists who do not want to make concessions. By having a control over the rising ruling classes, they have the power of solidarity with the government and thus, no desire or need to make concessions. They simply make sure that only those of like mind come to power and thus, leave the people wanting in both respects.

Rather than the religion being an advocate for the people (which is its true utility), it merely takes on the role of being another oppressor. It is the staunch duty of the government to exclude religion from its processes agressively and decisively. Further, it is the responsibility of the religion to maintain distance from secular administration in order to uphold its purity and utility. The only time the two should meet is when the religion brings the grievance of the people to the government in the form of humanitarian advocation.
 

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jallman said:
Well, being that we do live in an imperfect world in which a governing body already exhibits the flaws you listed, isnt it better to keep it in check with the only devices we have...the constant and aggressive questioning of that governing body, along with a consistent overturning of that administration through re-election process? Including religion in the power schema of this political body would make such a process and system of safeguards impossible. Religious study tends to be a lifelong pursuit, and thus develops a sort of stagnation within a generation of priests. Some would call this a development of tradition. This leads to the religious class having far too much control over the rising ruling classes and an inevitable corruption of the Church as their attentions turn more and more to maintaining that political control. The religion would in time become the ruling class, even if somewhat behind the scene.



Actually, I think it hits both our points nicely. Yes, religion is a powerful tool for controling the masses when tied to a political body. But the inevitable corruption and lack of a means to keep it in check makes the religion more of a burden than a help. Look at the example you used and learn from history. I am sure there is no need to insult your intelligence by expounding on this point.



And as I pointed out, this may work for a short time, but what of the fanatical religious traditionalists who do not want to make concessions. By having a control over the rising ruling classes, they have the power of solidarity with the government and thus, no desire or need to make concessions. They simply make sure that only those of like mind come to power and thus, leave the people wanting in both respects.

Rather than the religion being an advocate for the people (which is its true utility), it merely takes on the role of being another oppressor. It is the staunch duty of the government to exclude religion from its processes agressively and decisively. Further, it is the responsibility of the religion to maintain distance from secular administration in order to uphold its purity and utility. The only time the two should meet is when the religion brings the grievance of the people to the government in the form of humanitarian advocation.
This might be an appropriate place to summarise: my entire account rests on the claim that the primary task of a ruling elite is to maintain itself in power. To do this, it must, among other measures, take steps to constrain the unruly multitude which might challenge its authority. As biologists might say, this form of constraint has "survival value" (for the rulers).

Overt means of control - i.e. by criminalising dissent or by inhibiting conduct detrimental to the political status quo - might not be as effective as covert psychological pressure exerted in the form of religious indoctrination. Religion is thus a political/social utility in a state where the ruling class chooses to govern by symbols.

Of course this skeptical and Machiavellian view has a "philosophical" context: it presupposes a theory of human nature which is at odds with the liberalism of the times. To imply, as I do, that man has evolved as a (self consciously) dominion seeking, aggressive, acquisitive, and competitive species - a sort of Hobbesian warrior - is not, I believe, exactly the view from the bridge with the zeitgeist at the helm.

Your humane defense of limited government and the true purposes of religion (if rightly understood) implies a radically different view of human nature to the one I've put forward. Perhaps this discussion, if it is to continue, should focus now on our philosophical assumptions which have not been examined.
 

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Alan Ryan said:
This might be an appropriate place to summarise: my entire account rests on the claim that the primary task of a ruling elite is to maintain itself in power. To do this, it must, among other measures, take steps to constrain the unruly multitude which might challenge its authority. As biologists might say, this form of constraint has "survival value" (for the rulers).

Overt means of control - i.e. by criminalising dissent or by inhibiting conduct detrimental to the political status quo - might not be as effective as covert psychological pressure exerted in the form of religious indoctrination. Religion is thus a political/social utility in a state where the ruling class chooses to govern by symbols.

Of course this skeptical and Machiavellian view has a "philosophical" context: it presupposes a theory of human nature which is at odds with the liberalism of the times. To imply, as I do, that man has evolved as a (self consciously) dominion seeking, aggressive, acquisitive, and competitive species - a sort of Hobbesian warrior - is not, I believe, exactly the view from the bridge with the zeitgeist at the helm.

Your humane defense of limited government and the true purposes of religion (if rightly understood) implies a radically different view of human nature to the one I've put forward. Perhaps this discussion, if it is to continue, should focus now on our philosophical assumptions which have not been examined.
I agree that it is time for us to lay out a map for where this discussion is coming from before we can go any further. We are coming from very different views of mankind and the role of government itself, let alone the utility of religion to that government. I also have to commend you for taking such a difficult stance to defend as this. Since joining this forum, this has been my favorite debate thus far, so thank you.

First of all, the role of government is to provide an organized administration for the promotion of the people's welfare. The role of a governing class is to be good stewards of the resources of a nation and to priovide for the needs and liberties of all people. Noting the natural proclivity mankind has for greed and corruption when imbued with power, it is necessary that this governing class be constantly overturned and replaced through a process of election by the people. To this end, it is the inherent right of the people and every arm of the government itself to constantly question the motives and the authority of the administration.

Religion, on the other hand, has the responsibility to maintain a moral purity and provide for the spiritual needs of its congregation. A religion must look to the edification of humanity in spiritual/ethereal matters and thus, cannot be restrained or corrupted by involvement in an earthly politic. Mankind is given, through religion, a spiritual purpose of making itself more gratifying to the sensibilities of some morally superior and divine being. Herein lies the unfathomable capacity for religion to exert too much control: belief in this divine being is a matter of faith...an amorphous and unquantifiable emotion that harbors traits of reason without being reasonable. The religion, being the dispenser of faith to the masses, already has an incalculable capacity to control by defining doctrine and modes of worship of that divine being. It dispenses his/her wishes, and in a corrupt form, it dispenses at the whim of an unethical clergy.

The final premise I base my arguments on is quite simple and needs little explanation. It is useless to try to control the masses through symbology or even overt criminalization of dissention. Mankind has proven throughout history that repression will always be railed against and that there will always be a blessed few in the ranks of every class who will recognize injustice for what it is. These men and women will take on the grievances of the masses and will lead society to revolution.

I guess my thesis, if you will, is that to hinder this response is a wasteful endeavor. Such an attempt may find short lived success, but the will of mankind to question will always over ride the power of any institution of thought control. In effect, it is a waste of time, and therefore not useful.
 
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jallman said:
I agree that it is time for us to lay out a map for where this discussion is coming from before we can go any further. We are coming from very different views of mankind and the role of government itself, let alone the utility of religion to that government. I also have to commend you for taking such a difficult stance to defend as this. Since joining this forum, this has been my favorite debate thus far, so thank you.

First of all, the role of government is to provide an organized administration for the promotion of the people's welfare. The role of a governing class is to be good stewards of the resources of a nation and to priovide for the needs and liberties of all people. Noting the natural proclivity mankind has for greed and corruption when imbued with power, it is necessary that this governing class be constantly overturned and replaced through a process of election by the people. To this end, it is the inherent right of the people and every arm of the government itself to constantly question the motives and the authority of the administration.

Religion, on the other hand, has the responsibility to maintain a moral purity and provide for the spiritual needs of its congregation. A religion must look to the edification of humanity in spiritual/ethereal matters and thus, cannot be restrained or corrupted by involvement in an earthly politic. Mankind is given, through religion, a spiritual purpose of making itself more gratifying to the sensibilities of some morally superior and divine being. Herein lies the unfathomable capacity for religion to exert too much control: belief in this divine being is a matter of faith...an amorphous and unquantifiable emotion that harbors traits of reason without being reasonable. The religion, being the dispenser of faith to the masses, already has an incalculable capacity to control by defining doctrine and modes of worship of that divine being. It dispenses his/her wishes, and in a corrupt form, it dispenses at the whim of an unethical clergy.

The final premise I base my arguments on is quite simple and needs little explanation. It is useless to try to control the masses through symbology or even overt criminalization of dissention. Mankind has proven throughout history that repression will always be railed against and that there will always be a blessed few in the ranks of every class who will recognize injustice for what it is. These men and women will take on the grievances of the masses and will lead society to revolution.

I guess my thesis, if you will, is that to hinder this response is a wasteful endeavor. Such an attempt may find short lived success, but the will of mankind to question will always over ride the power of any institution of thought control. In effect, it is a waste of time, and therefore not useful.
Napoleon once said "Religion is the only thing keeping the poor from murdering the rich. It provides a framework for society and without it the world would spiral into madness as it did during the Reign of Terror when the crowds dragged the clerics through the streets and murdered the king and queen." (Napoleon's memoirs) The interesting thing is that Napoleon was an athiest but he recognized it's importance in society as long as it is seperated from the government.
 
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