God is not Great

One of the premises that Hitchens espouses in debates that he’s had in promoting his new book “God is not Great” is that religion has never contributed a single positive (in the secular meaning of the word ‘positive’) thing to society that couldn’t have just as easily been contributed without religious belief or wasn’t addressing a problem caused or exacerbated by religious belief in the first place.

Any examples of anything that someone can think of that could be considered as something positive religion has contributed that they couldn’t have contributed anyway without the religious belief or that wasn’t trying to fix a problem caused or exacerbated by religion in the first place?

Disclaimer: I’m not a believer, just curious about the accuracy of his assertion.

I don’t think it’s something that can be definitely determined. Would a Christian care worker in Africa toiling day and night doing what she sincerely believes is the work of God have done the same if religion hadn’t existed? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else.

My own view is pretty much the same as Hitchens’s, but I wouldn’t call it a decided matter.

That’s fair. If the care worker in that example was to become an atheist and continue the work, wouldn’t that indicate she didn’t need the religion to continue it?

I wonder if that says anything at all; yes, it can be said that in her case she didn’t get her start doing it in the first place but for the religious belief, but if she continues doing it afterwards without it that would seem to indicate that the religious belief was a channel for her disposition rather then the cause of it, wouldn’t it?

Hope for an afterlife?

Sure, for that particular worker. I’m sure that with enough effort one could find examples of atheist care workers who found religion and quit the work, religious care workers who found atheism and quit the work, atheist people who found religion and became care workers, and religious people who found atheism and became care workers. Which means that we’re back where we started, knowing zip.

“Secular” good, please. (But that’s a good point otherwise)

Good point.

If it’s restricted, say, to care workers as an example one could do statistically valid polling and see how things play out. That wouldn’t determine anything completely conclusively, I agree. Pretty much nothing in social sciences of that sort does. But it might be a little better than ‘zip.’

Reminds me of studies done to determine happiness. Of course it can be dismissed as being totally determinative, but with many caveats and qualifications – self-reported, bias, etc. – I think it says something. (One was recently done on comparative happiness based on race.)

I wonder if anyone’s done any such studies. Probably; seems every conceivable social dynamic has been studied!

But is that a positive or a negative ? Belief in an afterlife justifies a lack of compassion or excuses evil or just plain ignoring problems by convincing people that this life doesn’t matter, or that death doesn’t matter because people aren’t really dying. And the afterlife is portrayed as eternal and more important than this one, which causes people to do stupid or evil things for something imaginary.

Good points, that’s why I said ‘secular’ good only because otherwise things like afterworld points can be counterbalanced by all types of interpretations of what that belief implies as you’ve pointed out.

Hm, I guess I’ll have to stand mostly corrected on that one, although I still think it is a definite positive for the individual who possesses such hopes.

As for “secular” - heck, if I could by such hope, I probably would :stuck_out_tongue:

I’d concede that there are people for whom belief provides them happiness so that could be ‘secular’ value insofar as it brings them a ‘good’, that is happiness itself.

But as was said above, it can go so far afield in the aggregate that I think it’s a tenuous thing to label good humanity-wide.

I actually think that’s about the only ‘good’ thing that religion has ever done and it’s problematic, but I’ve got no doubt that there are probably people who lived their quiet lives with their beliefs, kept to themselves, and didn’t oppress others and died feeling content with their ideologies and the hope for an afterlife. I guess that’s fine.

I’m not sure that’s a valid or useful point he’s making. Have acts of charity and compassion been done by non believers? Sure.

Wouldn’t it also be true that no evil act done that was justified by religious belief could and probably has been done for secular reasons?

Of what use is that observation?

I don’t think there’s any realistic way to judge how much religious belief influenced a person’s tendency to do good or evil.

Notre Dame Cathederal is kind of pretty.

It doesn’t matter if religion is involved with the action, just that religion could be the only cause of the action. Could a volunteer work in Africa for the people there without religion being involved? Of course. Could people feed others without religion bein involved? Of course. All of the stuff talked about could be done without religion ever showing up. If you pump people up with false hope about nice things to come afterwards then it might be easier, but religion is not necessary for it.

So what can only religion do?

It’s not just a matter of things that could only happen if religion is around. Being religious might mean people are more likely to do something - more likely to do volunteer work, feed others, and so on. So yes, it does matter if religion is involved, because being slightly better (or worse) is still a change.

Isn’t that what motivates suicide bombers?

So are a lot of other works of art, music and architecture that were inspired by God and often patronized directly by religious groups. The Catholic church was pretty much the patron of the arts in Europe for over a milennium. Michaelangelo and Bach, two of the most sublime creators in the history of human artistic endeavor, humbly credited their work to their faith in God. Would they have been great artists without their religion? Maybe so, but they wouldn’t have been the same artists.

Exactly. Religion provides a community that can be used as a nucleus for a variety of activities. Some bad, but many, I’d venture most in modern western nations, good.

Charity, social change, even something as simple as organizing sending food to bereaved families can come from the church. I’ll never forget what a source of comfort the church (not the teachings or the religion, but the church members themselves) were when my father died. There’s really no secular organization (outside of our own family, of course, which is only so big) that could or would have helped us like they did.

I imagine that in the absence of religion, things like Rotarians and Freemasonry would become more popular, and fill the need for a general social group. And they’d probably do just as good a job of seeing to widows and orphans and setting up soup kitchens as the churches do now, and without all that God stuff. But they’d still have all petty and major political troubles that religious groups do, they’d still find ways of excluding people they don’t like, still occasionally serve as the nucleus of hate groups and the like, that I don’t see that as a real improvement.

Well, there’s the various scriptures as literature (a secular appreciation). Kind of hard to argue that they would’ve been written in anything akin to their current form in the absence of religious belief.

More likely to blow themselves up, more likely to think it’s ok to kill people who don’t agree with them, more likely to try to force other peope to believe what they believe…

Being more likely isn’t the argument here. Of course people are going to be more likely to do things for you if you lie them and give them false hope about a great place they’ll go if they do. The OP asks:

It doesn’t matter if people might be more likely to do something if religion is involved, it’s still possible that they’ll do it without religion. What things are only possible with religion?