11/05/2012

Religion's Purpose

Now that is a hyper-arrogant title for a rant, don't you think? However, after watching RSA Animate: The Truth About Dishonesty I was inspired to think about whatever value superstition might bring to society. The reason this was worth considering is that I generally believe religions possess no positive social value. Religion does not "socialize us," but does the opposite in allowing us to imagine there is a god/goddess/collection-of-deities "on our side" who will allow us to do all sorts of evil in the name of whatever god/goddess/collection-of-deities we've invented.

The only tool religion has to control behavior, guilt, is powerless against sociopaths. Even worse, this tool is so useful in controlling the actions of the Marching Morons that it became particularly attractive to clever sociopaths (Is there another kind?) with all sorts of evil agendas. Even not-so-clever sociopaths like the Fox News variety can use this tool to aim-and-fire the Marching Morons off of whatever cliff and into any target they pick. Superstition and guilt and fear are pretty much the most useful weapons ever devised by the crazy lunatics who float to the top of the human toilet bowl.

I particularly liked the quick dismissal Dan Ariely used for the supernatural, "from whatever spirits they believe in." It's quick, clean, and grants no unearned respect or honor to delusional thinking. He quickly moves from the supernatural to what he calls "reminders" of moral expectation and behavior. No messing around with the magical aspect of religion and right to the only possible actual connection to cultural value.

I'm not convinced. Catholics, the originators of confession, have never shown any particular bent toward honesty or moral behavior. The people who brought the world the Inquisition have been on the side of evil, greed, and vicious behavior more often than any other group in human history. Confession might work on a small scale, but it appears to have no value on a worldwide basis.

A more practical religious "value" is explained, repeatedly, in Drew Faust's This Republic of Suffering. That book describes the ways American families handled the wholesale death of the Civil War and religion played a huge part in allowing Americans to send their children, husbands, and siblings off to an insane war over issues that hardly anyone believed in on both sides. As Mary Cabot, a woman who authored a popular book on spiritualism of the time, explained, "I wanted something actual, something pleasant, about this place in which Roy [her husband] has gone." So, she created a more detailed invention of "heaven" to supplement the vague and unsatisfactory description traditional religion and the Bible offered.

Modern evangelicalism is rife with invention to make up for the holes in the Bible and the conservative approach traditional religion once took with providing comfort from the brutality of life. Today, every church from the Southern Baptists to Mormons to Scientology works overtime to create new, more sell-able images of life-after-death to attract customers who have had, or expect to have, great losses from war, disease, or bad luck. It's a tough market out there, between having to create an acceptable and universal illustration of The Big Rock Candy Mountain and inventing a god/goddess/collection-of-deities that is sweet on the believers and psychopathicly nasty to unbelievers.

It is worth remembering that this "purpose" of religion is to allow the peons justification for sending their children to death for the benefit of the ruling class. More than any other way, this is probably the most banal application of the "opiate of the masses" explanation for religion. Offering false comfort to prevent the unbridled outrage for the stolen lives of our children is absolutely the most evil thing religion has done in its long, vicious history.

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