Monday, March 01, 2010

Benefits of religion?

I am a religious person--I converted to Judaism when I was 19 or 20 (don't remember which). I've never claimed being religious was necessarily good or bad, though, except for me. I have known ethical people who were agnostic and atheist, as well as ethical people from other religions than mine.

Isegoria points to a review of Guenter Lewy's Why America Needs Religion: Secular Modernity and its Discontents, a sympathetic atheist's view of religion.

In the introduction Lewy states:
The prevalence of secular humanism and moral relativism are said to have undermined the meaning and significance of human life, to have created a debased world of modernity in which there are no firm values and nothing is either absolutely right or absolutely wrong.

I started this book with the intention of refuting this thesis....

I remain a religious agnostic, but, unlike most atheists, I not only am not hostile to traditional religion but consider it a highly valuable, not to say essential, social institution.

In his review, Taylor first explains why he's reviewing the book:
Theoretically, there is no reason why atheists can't teach morality and socialize children well. However, in practice, Christians have been taking this problem seriously for ~2000 years. In contrast, atheists have shown up late to the game, and too often with a cavalier attitude.

and then points out his major objection to the analysis in the book:
My more serious complaint (putting on my engineer's hat) is that Lewy never clearly explains the criteria by which he judges moral doctrines. We have to have objectives before we can carry on an intelligent discussion of whether our objectives are being met.

However, he still concludes that religion (at least as it is practiced in the US and Europe) is better than atheism at providing moral guidance:
There are blind spots. Religion, when it's working correctly, orients the mind's eye so that the blind spot points in a direction that doesn't matter very much. Atheism doesn't cure blindness, it merely allows the blind spot to be oriented in whatever direction is currently fashionable.


jaylake said...

Judging only from those snippets, that seems remarkably dismissive of the atheist viewpoint, to the point of ignorance.

Kai Jones said...

It wouldn't be interesting to me if it were a couple of self-labeled atheists slamming religion. Instead, it's two atheists deciding religion has value after looking at the historical record--value separate from the issue of whether there is a supernatural being.

Stef said...

It's a no-brainer to me that religion has value (although whether it's done more good or harm over the centuries I can't say). But I have my doubts whether people who believe in God are better at teaching ethics and morality to children than those who don't.

Contrary to popular belief in the US, religion and belief in God aren't the same thing. My religion doesn't include belief in anything supernatural and I know of various other religions that don't either.