Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Faith is not the answer

by Terry Sanderson, Guardian
Thanks to Linda Ward Selbie for the link.

Faith is not the answer

Whatever you think of our modern-day woes – and some aren't even all that woeful – religion doesn't offer the solution

Speaking at the Lambeth conference,
the chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has said that almost all of the ills that plague modern society are caused by our lack of religion.
Since we stopped going to church we've become a nation of fat, isolated, divorced, graceless and uncaring slobs who spend all our time online creating "ever smaller sects of the like-minded."

Families are falling apart, loneliness is escalating and so on.

The ills that he identifies are all real, of course. Obesity is becoming an epidemic, more people are complaining about depression and isolation and divorce is on the rise.

But isn't the same true of the US – with knobs on? And isn't the States supposed to be one of the most religious nations in the world, not to mention one of the most violent?
I have a different explanation from the rabbi about the way that our society is developing. I believe that some of the things that he complains about are not necessarily negative at all. The rising divorce rate could simply be an acknowledgment that marriage doesn't work for everyone. It is only since we have been released from the shackles of religion that we have we been able to do anything about it. In days of old, when religion ruled every aspect of our lives, divorce was not an option, except for the very rich.
And so millions (mainly women) endured lives of utter misery in marriages that verged on torture.
Obesity is a sign of our affluence, not of our atheism. In deeply religious countries in the developing world there is little obesity. But that has nothing to do with religion restraining people's greed, it is to do with poverty and lack of opportunity.

Yes, new technology can be isolating, we know that, and a new publication by a government advisor suggests that we should be less materialistic and send fewer emails if we want to be happy.
But being less materialistic doesn't necessarily mean we have to once more embrace the incredible claims of religion. There are other ways to be philanthropic that don't involve taking orders from priests. Many non-believers work in hospitals, welfare services and voluntary groups. They get a lot of personal satisfaction from such work that goes well beyond the (usually miserly) pay packet.

Yes, we need to make a real effort to take our eyes off the computer monitor and set them on to real people. To do our communication face-to-face rather than through the keyboard. There is something truly uplifting about a good conversation with someone we like, and in solving problems together in person.

Rabbi Sacks thinks we should all troop back to church/synagogue and all the problems would be solved. We would stop splitting into ever smaller interest groups, he says. But then, he was talking to the Anglican Communion, so they would be able to understand precisely with what he's saying.

  • macanna's profile picture macanna

    Jul 29 08, 6:47pm (about 4 hours ago)

    Here we go again. Now can we all resist turning this into an exact copy of the comments on the AC Greyling article earlier today? I am not holding my breath.

    Obviously the good rabbi is barking. However just because someone is mentally ill does not make them dangerous. So it is with religous adherents, they are not necessarily dangerous. Just some of them.

    Clearly the ills of our modern society are because religion has failed. What a relief - all we have to do is come up with an alternative. New Labour anyone? Or was that just Catholicism in disguise? I suggest over eating, having sex with people we are not married to of any gender, and ignoring those idiots in our family. Sounds great to me! Could it catch on?

  • WoollyMindedLiberal's profile picture WoollyMindedLiberal

    Jul 29 08, 6:55pm (about 4 hours ago)


    Obviously the good rabbi is barking

    He has a lovely, deep, mellifluous and inspiring voice. When he is talking he sounds most impressive. But when you read it in printed form it looks trite or simply dull and uninspired.

  • cebolla's profile picture cebolla

    Jul 29 08, 6:57pm (about 4 hours ago)

    But that's the way religions work isn't it...everything will be ok as long as we are controlled, as long as we are limited, and cowed. It will all be fine as long as people just believe this stuff.

    Trouble is, it's not just unbelievable, it's ridiculous. And such an obvious remnant of primitive man's first attempts to answer questions that were, for him, unanswerable. Many of those questions are still unanswerable for us, but we're whittling them down. We're at least still asking them! Religion would have us not ask, the answers are already there...discovered by primitive man, who ate his own cack.

    I believe I am quoting Parliament (or were they Funkadelic then..?) when I say : "Think! It ain't illegal yet!"

  • #
    fluorospacedon's profile picture fluorospacedon

    Jul 29 08, 7:04pm (about 4 hours ago)

    Religion is the source of all evil.

    Besides being a completely imbecil way to look upon life.

    It has been used for thousands of years to oppress and stupidify people.

    That it is still allowed at all proves that as a species humans can't yet be considered rational.

    Bluecloud's profile picture Bluecloud

    Jul 29 08, 7:19pm (about 3 hours ago)

    Our society has certainly become lost. Religion relies on blind faith, but I rely on reason.

    As we look for a deeper meaning for life we find only the consumer society as the offered solution by those in power. No wonder people are becoming obese!

    How about our role models? Emulating Amy is not a good plan. Infact she has managed to make clear where our consumerism can ultimately lead us! And as for the politicians!

    If we found a system which focused us on looking after our civilisation, rather than relenting to santuary in consumerism & religion, we might realise that there is something to live for and even celebrate!

    I live in hope.

    LucyQ's profile picture LucyQ

    Jul 29 08, 7:32pm (about 3 hours ago)

    The Museum of Sex in New York City has a fantastic exhibition on currently titled The Sex Lives of Animals.

    The exhibit is rooted in science and is a must see for everyone as it shows how completely and utterly stupid the monotheistic religions are with regards to how, what and why we are. I am quite convinced that the bible, torah and koran exist as manifestations of human cruelty and divisiveness. Since they were invented by misogynist males to control women and the other it is high time that everyone stand up for human decency and insist that they compendiums be shelved with porn, for consenting adult eyes only. Those who suggest that for the few of us alive today who have the luxury of complete freedom are poorer because we don't join in practicing superstition are lying to themselves and anyone else that listens to their idiocy.


    Jul 29 08, 7:59pm (about 3 hours ago)

    Terry, don't know if you read the comments, but wanted to pick up on something you were quoted on over at the bbc: "He added that some opinion polls said that up to 25% of the UK population now considered themselves atheist. "

    In fact, according to the latest YouGov poll, 36% don't believe and 25% are not sure. Of those that do believe 34% say that religion is not very important and 5% say it is unimportant. So only 24% of Britons both believe in God also think religion is at least somewhat important. For 3 out of 4 Britons, religion is simply unimportant. (p9)


    Jul 29 08, 9:15pm (about 2 hours ago)

    What I want from the society I live in is compassion, equality of opportunity, a redistributive taxation policy, all the leftie stuff of a socialist utopia. It is easy to confuse some of these values with the values of religion. Indeed a just society is a secondary goal (after obedience to god/dogma etc) of many religions.

    The difficulty I have with religion as a route to achieve that goal, leaving aside the absurd supernatural stuff, is that after thousands of years it has delivered NOTHING. If this stuff actually worked, maybe I could pretend to go along with the fairy stuff. But all religion has managed to create is division. And as for religion''s role in the subjugation of women, they are STILL at it!

    How could it be otherwise? Placing obedience to dogma above compassion for one another is shameless and immoral.

    I do not have a solution to the terrible suffering in this world, but religion is not that solution, it is part of the problem.

    The Rabbi is yesterday's enslavement, soliciting tomorrow's victims.


    Jul 29 08, 9:40pm (about 1 hour ago)

    Well said Terry. We certainly do not need to invoke the supernatural to cure the world's ills. And as for obese people - it must be said, one only has to look to the USA, the most religious nation in the developed world, where the waist is as supersized as the carbon footprint.

    Get kids doing the duke of edinburgh award - relying on each other - invest in local sports facilities at grass roots level (rather than throwing it all at olympic white elephants...), and teach kids good manners by example - that's what I want to see more of in communities. My fear is that with money thrown at interfaith projects, it will end up going to mega churches or similar pest-houses.


    Jul 29 08, 9:44pm (about 1 hour ago)

    Macanna, what is it you mean by religion ?

    Surely you cant be lumping all the worlds different Faith & Belief systems into one handy box called religion, your argument that all religion has managed to create is division is as absurd as the comment in the original article that all are problems are due to the lack of religion these are just gross and meaninless generalisations.

    I do believe that any system that promotes the wealfare of others, the care of our neibours, and compassion, has to be worth a look.

    Sadly as I posted earlier socialst utopias just dont work.


    Jul 29 08, 10:14pm (32 minutes ago)

    phybyn "what is it you mean by religion ?"

    It's all very well reflecting and having a sense of the spiritual...we all have that. The trouble starts when people claim to know things that they cannot know. When they claim to have access to a 'secret' knowledge, not just that there is a creator/god, but that they know what he's thinking, what he wants us to do (usually a lot of bowing and scraping and apologising for stuff we didn't do) and what he wants us to wear. Yep. Have you noticed that the major religions tell us that this 'god' is really interested in fashion?

    Bottom line : you know nothing, stop telling us you do.

    Also, the moment you add anything supernatural, you're pricing yourself out of rational argument. Supernatural means what it says...there's never been any proof for anything supernatural because, guess what, 'natural' describes our universe. If you have to call on something that cannot be evidenced by definition you know you are onto a loser. Ghosts, speaking with the dead, chi, spirit photos, gods, telekinesis, homeopathy...stop pretending. Take off the funny hat - you are not a wizard. Grow up.

    Jul 29 08, 10:21pm (24 minutes ago)

    USAcomments [hope he doesn't comment for the entire USA] said :

    "Faith should never be confused with religion"

    The word faith means :

    "Being an ignorant primitive that thinks his beliefs actually map onto reality, without evidence, without proof, without logic, just because he feels like it should. "


    SharpMango's profile picture SharpMango

    Jul 29 08, 10:29pm (16 minutes ago)

    All athiests in this thread.

    Note this: No one knows what existed before the universe. And by universe i mean all universes, be it we are an offshoot of another universe or anything.

    ALL athiests MUST believe that the universe is eternal, that the actual act of 'creation' did not occur. otherwise they need to believe that 'something' came out of the absolute void with no prompt at all.

    To believe that the universe(s) is eternal is as much a belief as to believe that something created the universe.

    I'd much rather believe in the idea of an omnipotent being that is eternal than in the idea that the universe is eternal. using my powers of reasoning, the former is infinitely more probable than the latter....

    athiests dont have a belief system? (wry smile)

    blackcatbone's profile picture blackcatbone

    Jul 29 08, 10:35pm (10 minutes ago)

    USAcomments: Humanism is not a religion. It is ethical atheism. We have but one life. Live it well with consideration.


    Jul 29 08, 10:38pm (8 minutes ago)

    ALL athiests MUST believe that the universe is eternal, that the actual act of 'creation' did not occur. otherwise they need to believe that 'something' came out of the absolute void with no prompt at all.

    No we mustn't.

    Indeed most of us believe in nothing preferring evidence to blind faith.

    The numbers at the moment point to the 'big bang' about 15 billions years ago.

    Given that time is an inherent property of he universe talking about what existed 'before' time started is meaningless.

    But hey given that the religious spend most of there time obsessing over essentially meaningless and unanswerable questions I'll leave them to their pointless speculations

    The Large Hadron Collider is being switched on this summer it may provide some more of that evidence stuff

    USAcomments's profile picture USAcomments

    Jul 29 08, 10:43pm (2 minutes ago)

    blackcatbone, look it up.

    quote - In the United States, the Supreme Court recognized that Humanism is equivalent to a religion in the limited sense of authorizing Humanists to conduct ceremonies commonly carried out by officers of religious bodies.

    In the huminism religion there is no higher power than humans, humans are literally considered to be Gods.

    Yaquina132's profile picture Yaquina132

    Jul 29 08, 10:47pm (about 1 hour ago)

    Religion is not the answer.

    It is the problem.

    Jul 29 08, 10:51pm (about 1 hour ago)


    All athiests in this thread. Note this: No one knows what existed before the universe. And by universe i mean all universes, be it we are an offshoot of another universe or anything.

    Not quite as sharp as a mango are you? We only discovered the existence of other solar systems and galaxies through science - strangely your alleged magical Sky Pixies knew nothing about them.


    ALL athiests MUST believe that the universe is eternal, that the actual act of 'creation' did not occur. otherwise they need to believe that 'something' came out of the absolute void with no prompt at all.

    Hang on one cotton-picking minute, I'm the Evil Atheist in residence on CiF and leader of the New Militant Atheists so I'll bloody well decide what the Hench-Atheists must believe. We'll go with what the science says until I say otherwise. Go read some Cosmology.


    To believe that the universe(s) is eternal is as much a belief as to believe that something created the universe.

    A logical fallacy so huge we could fly a galaxy through it and not touch the sides. The latest thinking shows that its quite possible that the Universe simply came into existence as the result of random quantum fluctuations and that it is not eternal but about 14 billion years old depending on where you measure from. Its not expected to last forever either, in about 50 billion years time there'll be a bit of radiation and maybe a few decaying black holes and that's your lot.


    I'd much rather believe in the idea of an omnipotent being that is eternal than in the idea that the universe is eternal. using my powers of reasoning, the former is infinitely more probable than the latter....

    Your powers of reasoning aren't all that great. If a Sky Pixie can be eternal then so can something else, whether its a universe or a multiverse. If a Sky Pixie can create itself then so can a multiverse or a universe. The magic Sky Pixie answers no questions and adds no value to the process, a smart person wouldn't bother to postulate it in the first place.


    athiests dont have a belief system? (wry smile)

    That's not a wry smile, only half-clever people can do those and you aren't even close to that.

    It depends what you mean by a belief-system. Mine is grounded in observation, evidence and reason. Its open to change, when the facts change then so do my opinions. All CiF Atheists are required to have the same belief system or face being thrown to the merciless Dawkins Sharks we keep in our hollowed out volcano base.

    Jul 29 08, 10:54pm (about 1 hour ago)


    Madhatter- there you go, just because you cannot answer that question through empricism does not make it invalid. its the most important question that is out there, that is the type of question that only rigourous logic can answer. The fact that you believe that the big bang was point zero actually illustrates the fact that you believe the universe IS eternal. strange though isnt it?

    The difference between the Planck Time and zero is neither here nor there. You clearly have deluded yourself that you know what all atheists much think. If you weren't an established believer then I'd suspect you were a wind-up merchant deliberately trying to make religious people look stupid.

    Not all religious people are stupid, many are very clever indeed : for example my chum ChooChoo.

    Jul 29 08, 11:44pm (18 minutes ago)

    Apart from flashing his/her ignorance, Sharpmango said something instructive :

    "I'd much rather believe in the idea of an omnipotent being that is eternal..."

    That's the'd rather. Some of us however have enough honesty, self respect to want to know what is true.

    Religion tries to sell us what we'd 'rather', but being invention, tells us that we must have 'faith'.

    It's a con. You're being fooled. Read a book.
    gailm61's profile picture gailm61

    Jul 29 08, 11:51pm (11 minutes ago)

    Absolutely agree, the decline and fall of marriage is a sign its not for all.

    Falling numbers at churches is also a good sign, people are thinking for themselves and voting with their feet. The simplistic messages sent out by religious types does them no favours these days, people are more sophisticated and less vulnerable to the bullshit hardsell that passed for spirituality in the past.

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