Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Religion as refuge

Christianity as well as most other religions are, I believe, false in the sense that their view of the world do not agree with the world as we perceive it. However, one might ask why false theories flourish so much. Would so many people believe in something which is false? My answer to this is obviously, yes they would! Here I want to propose one explanation of why there is religion.


Last time I wrote about Plato who grew up in wartime. I do not think that it is a coincidence that his republic, his utopia, is a state which would be very static. Everyone has their role, and there is left no room for progress, scientific or otherwise, in this state. Could it be that Plato somewhere desired something lasting and permanent? His idea of ideas similarly refers to something which is constant albeit not in our world.

Stoicism is another example of a philosophy which seeks something permanent beyond the world that we perceive. This philosophy advice us that the path to happiness is to ignore all calamities in your life. Do not let people irritate you. If your wife dies then there is no point in grief, after all what good does it do that you are also unhappy?

I am not entirely sure how the concept of philosophy and that of religion is connected. However, in this case I see religion as just another instance of the search for something permanent. I do not know whether there is any data on the hypothesis that I am just about to spell out, I was not able to find any when I did a google search, however, if true it would fit perfectly with where I am going here. I think that as hardships disappear from a society, more people become atheist, and vice versa. When life is rough people rely on religion or philosophies of endurance such as stoicism to achieve something permanent. Religion is in other words just an expression of people longing for a safe haven, something they need to cope with the hardships around them. Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so, many people really do need religion, however, some of the consequences of such beliefs have been devastating as I have indicated in other posts (I think).

Some personal experience can also be used as evidence of the point I am trying to make. I remember when I was little and did not know whether I believed in God or not. Perhaps this is an after construction, but as I remember it, I used to pray to God about only when I was in some sort of trouble or when I needed something, not when everything was going well for me. It was as if God was some sort of last resort when I could not handle the situation myself. I do not think that I am the only young boy exhibiting this type of behavior. Further I do not think it is even limited to boys. In Denmark where I was born and lived until I was seven, the most religious part, traditionally, is western Jylland. Coincidentally, this is also where people have traditionally made a living of fishing. Many people who went out a random day to catch fish never came back. What can you do about this (in the absence of supercomputers that predict the weather)?, not much except pray to God , who will in most cases answer your prays...

Much of the inspiration to this post came from Bertrand Russell and his book ”History of western philosophy”, a book that I highly recommends. He sums up the point I tried to make above in these words:

”The search for something permanent is one of the deepest of the instincts leading men to philosophy. It is derived, no doubt, from love of home and desire for a refuge from danger; we find, accordingly, that it is most passionate in those whose lives are most exposed to catastrophe. Religion seeks permanence in two forms, God and immortality. In God is no variableness neither shadow of turning; the life after death is eternal and unchanging. The cheerfulness of the nineteenth century turned men against these static conceptions, and modern liberal theology believes that there is progress in heaven and evolution in the Godhead. But even in this conception there is something permanent, namely progress itself and its immanent goal. And a dose of disaster is likely to bring men's hopes back to their older super-terrestrial forms: if life on earth is despaired of, it is only in heaven that peace can be sought.”

11 comments:

Z said...

Ok. An atheist would probably call religion a refuge for the poor, the sick or the dying.

But, on that same note, a believer might call atheism the result of being spoiled (in some way or another).

;)

rasmussenanders said...

Thank you for the comment Z. I guess what you just expressed is my main point here. Religions main purpose through history seems to be to give people who live in misery some hope.

However, if we are able to create a society where suffering is minimal people will become more optimistic in their own ability to improve things, instead of relying on supernatural beings.

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Dave said...

"Christianity as well as most other religions are, I believe, false in the sense that their view of the world do not agree with the world as we perceive it. "

How does Christianity view the world, as you understand it? How does this view not match up with the world around us?

rasmussenanders said...

Just on the top of my head, the world is much older than what the bible says, prayer doen't help people, and there are no observations suggesting supernatural forces in our world...

Dave said...

We cannot definitively say how old the earth is because no one was around when it was created. There are many known problems with dating methods. Scientifically, we only have the present (and the observations of the recent past) to try to figure out the past.

How can you say that prayer doesn't help people? I believe that there are many people who would disagree with you. Do you know what people pray for? Do you know what blessings people receive?

What are considered supernatural forces? Just because things happen consistently doesn't mean they aren't supernatural. Can you completely explain gravity or magnetism? There are a lot of things in our world that we can't explain.

What else do you have?

David Pratt said...

What evidence could be found that would disprove the theory of evolution?

rasmussenanders said...

The dating methods we use are successfull in many ways, therefore we trust them. Of course it might just all be wrong, but that would cast into doubt many many claims...

The prayer remark is based on studies with control groups, proper studies that is.

When I say that there seems to be no supernatural forces I mean that all the things that we have assumed in the past to be due to supernatural forces, have found their "natural explanation". Sure there are fundamental problems with basic concepts in physics but saying that "it is god" doesn't help you there eiter.

If you show me human fossils that are dated to be as old as dinosour fossils it would disprove evolution. What would disprove God?

Wernickes area said...
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Wernickes area said...

Even if we grant Christians that we cannot explain everything (which of course we would be stupid not to grant them, since we can't explain everything), and even if we grant them (which I personally do not) that there has to have been some sort of conscious being, creating all of it - even if we grant them that, it doesn't even begin to follow that the conscious being we're dealing with is the good old Bible God... (This, of course, is not a new thought. Hume, Voltaire, Diderot and many others have pointed it out long ago...)

Wernickes area said...

Your question, Anders, is interesting. What would disprove God? Well, one suspicion is that he in fact can't be disproven. However, one might come to think that science must have (in one way or another) encountered something that has to be referred to as God. I mean, with millions of experiments, calculations and examinations there was bound to be some shed of evidence pointing towards God. But it seems there wasn't... Of course, we cannot explain everything, we might never be able to, but to say that those things we cannot yet explain are in some mysterious ways the workings of God, is just to postpone the problem. I suppose a lot of people in 1500 hundreds were saying that there was no chance in hell science would be able to explain how the earth could be held stable at the same spot, not falling, in the universe. That it had to be God holding it up...