I don’t want this to turn into a GD thread and get it moved, so please, as a favor to me, keep the but-religion-SUX! comments somewhat on-topic.
Like many Dopers, I’m a skeptic and an atheist (I’ve already summarized my journey out of Christian fundamentalism elsewhere on the Board). And while I’m fairly hostile to religion, I can see that it has some possible benefits for some people, and for society. (Though I’m sure Der Trihs will be along shortly to correct me. :D) And my own faith experience has been of some value to me, even though I am now devoid of religious faith altogether.
I thought it only fair to recognize a couple of these things, and to make a few positive observations about our religious friends and their belief systems.
I actually respect the all-out, hardcore, Jesus-freak apologists and theologians. Not for their reason and logic, of course, but for their devotion to something that they REALLY believe. Think about it: If God really existed and Jesus were really his son and died on the cross to save us and all that, NOTHING on this earth could ever possibly be more important. I admire those people who recognize this all-or-nothing nature of Christianity, and (albeit wrongly, in my opinion) embrace it as the truth and fully live by it.
Rather ironically (and I’m sure unintentionally, from my parents’ standpoint), being a Christian taught me to value truth above all else. It was my strong Christian upbringing that led me to conclude that I couldn’t pay lip-service to something I didn’t believe in, which is why I left the faith. I think that to this day, my mother doesn’t recognize that she gets the credit for my atheism. She bemoans my apostasy with positively martyr-like sanctimony, but she doesn’t realize that my unbelief is because of her (again, ironically) good intellectual parenting (in the sense that, “you should always follow truth, no matter what”).
My spiritual background has made me better able to appreciate the more “transcendental” aspects of human existence. I don’t mean this in a namby-pamby, soft-pedalling sort of half-assedly spiritual way. What I mean is, the same sort of awe and wonder and joy that I used to feel at the idea of God, is now precisely what I feel when I look upon the cosmos, and the history of our species. So faith was something of a good aesthetic role model.
So, there you are. A few sincere reflections on the utility of having been religious, at one point…
How? Christianity is faith based and claims to be the truth with no convincing evidence that it is and asks you to believe regardless of evidence that the Bible is contradictory and full of scientific untruths.
I have a feeling that sense of awe and wonder you have towards the cosmos would have been part of your personality even if you weren’t brought up being taught to be a Christian. I doubt kids raised by atheist parents have less feelings of awe and wonder regarding the universe than those raised by Christian parents that later become atheists.
FWIW, saying that this thread “isn’t really witnessing” is putting it VERY mildly. I generally despise religion, and have no interest whatsoever in promoting it. This was just a casual nod to some of the more useful things I got out of being religious.
That’s about 13.9 x 10^7 light years from witnessing.
I feel much the same as the OP. When you’re raised with the idea that most people, even smart people, don’t know the truth, & yet the truth is intellectually knowable, (that’s the part some fundies consciously reject, but it was part of my upbringing), then you can apply that understanding to accept your own imperfect knowledge & the imperfection of those that taught you to seek truth.
Anything that encourages people to do things like tell the truth, not physically harm other people, help those in need, and just generally be nice is a good thing. I know people do some stupid (and hurtful) things in the name of religion, but I think the core message of most religions- basically, be nice to people and treat them the way you want to be treated- is good. If you’re doing it right, you should be treating people better.
Religion has made multiple people who didn’t feel like life was worth living come back from a self-destructive - or just destructive - lifestyle. Religion has provided a community for people who otherwise have none, but share belief. Religion is the reason why we have the Sistine Chapel, Mozart’s Requiem, and countless other great works of art. Heck, without religion we wouldn’t have awesome derivative works like Life of Brian and American Gods. We wouldn’t have Greek mythology or Gilgamesh. We might not even have Stonehenge. Basically, religion inspires people to do a lot of really crappy things, but it has also inspired people to do a lot of really great things - and sometimes it just inspires ordinary people to live and do good things, and probably even that would be enough.
Religion is a way of simulating a relationship with God without knowing God, as such it serves a purpose as sort of training wheels. It teaches basic principals through rules and regulations we can understand and are written down so we can refer to them.
I’m not religious at all, never have been. I just wasn’t raised with it.
I do believe religion is good for society overall. It provides not so much a moral framework, as a concept that there even is such a thing as morals. It keeps people thinking about the nature of right and wrong and their goals in life beyond the material. It provides a sense of shared ritual that keeps a society together.
I’ve met a lot of Christians around the world who have left their homes to go help others, often with no religious element at all. Missionaries can be bad, but not all of them are bad. Many simply do good work without even mentioning their religious beliefs.
Nazis and Islamic terrorists are dedicated to their delusions as well. It’s nothing to admire.
Valuing truth above all else is not a value which arises from Christianity or any other religion. It’s actually something which is subtly eschewed by most religions, especially when they preach “faith” as a preeminent value.
Awe and wonder exist just fine without religion. Religion doesn’t create it. In fact, religion is basically just a ham handed attempt to EXPLAIN it.
There is not a single thing that a person can do, feel or understand with religion that one cannot do, feel or understand without religion.
IMHO it’s much more awe-inspiring to look on the cosmos at something that happened spontaneously because of the laws of physics, chaos and chance than it is to simply ascribe it to “the will of God”. The latter is a cop-out, invented to prevent people from feeling awe and wonder.
I was raised as a church-goer, and married a regular church-goer. The thing I admire most is the ability of religion to form communities within communities. It is my impression that religious moderates get their religious network of friends and contacts as an extra on top of other relationships.
(This isn’t universal - many religious communities operate to the exclusion of other types of relationship, but I haven’t directly been involved with these).
There’s a couple of things I see religion being useful for.
A placebo coping mechanism. Much like a child who is afraid of the dark and can’t sleep at night who is instantly calmed and cured by having their teddy bear tucked under their arm religion can be a coping mechanism for adults who can’t mentally cope with reality and things that are insanely difficult to cope with without it. A parent who has recently lost a child is fairly inconsolable. Coping with the reality that their child is gone forever is a hard pill to swallow. Give them a placebo of the possibility of an imaginary afterlife where they will someday be reunited goes a long way.
A moral compass for those without one. While non-believers can simply point to the fact that you don’t need religion to tell right from wrong, and that without religion they can still act humanely with common sense for the good of all,
there are still a great many who lack this common sense.
Without a ‘fear of god’ consequence they see nothing keeping them from murdering their enemies, stealing if they can get away with it, etc. Scary stuff.
I actually know people who’s sole reason for walking the straight & narrow is because God said, and if I don’t I will face consequences. They don’t seem to grasp the concept of doing the right thing just for the sake of it being right.