What benefits (if any) does organized religion provide society that couldn't also come from elsewhere?


Whether it be from atheists, agnostics, or even religion-less spiritual people, it seems the common concensus is that not only does organized religious (such as Catholicism) cause more harm than good, but that what good it does do is not exclusive to religion. In other words, all the charity work, service, and even moral teaching which stem from religion could just as easily arise from a secular, humanitarian worldview.

So my dear Apologists, (hypothetically) couldn’t the Church’s role as a social institution just as easily be carried out by a secular, not-in-the-slightest religious one? (i.e. same humanitarian work albeit slightly different – yet still humanitarian – moral teaching)

(Please exclude all anwers involving divine intervention, divine revelation, and anything the bible says (sorry). Also, I’M NOT focusing on the exact differences of moral principles, as the basic “Golden Rule” would most likely still apply in said society)


Hope you like worms, you just opened a gigantic can of them. I can even predict the next few posts for you:

  • secularists can’t have absolute morals
  • without religious guidance society will collapse in on itself
  • human efforts for good are doomed without God

I also predict that within eight replies someone will bring up a) gays, b) foreigners, c) communists, d) Nazis, e) all of the above. But good luck!


There is no salvation outside of the Church and thus it is not possible to do good outside of it.

Attempts by non-Catholics to be good are often sincere, but at best become exercises in judgment and hypocrisy - such as Salvation Army hostels where alcohol is banned. I am not choosing the Sally Army as an example of the worst Protestants, but as an example of the best, one of the few such groups who really do believe in good works and try to perform them.

More typical is the example of the Communists who killed millions, laid waste whole economies, and very nearly took down Western civilisation, in an attempt to alleviate the lot of the poor. Or of the Muslims whose Islamic relief agencies don’t actually differ from charitable activities carried out by Chicago gangsters - they are just a way of buying influence. What we think is charity is just the subtle strategies of our genes, trying to put copies of themselves into the next generation, in an environment largely determined by other people.

Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.


Called it in one. Awesome.


the primary purpose of the church is to unite humanity into a devine relationship based on love with our creator - God, How can one do this without including our creator ? In fact, our efforts to do so would be in very selfishly motivated. We would be focusing on ourselves rather than God.

God not only wants us to do good - He wants us to do good through Him - through the Holy Spirit - who on this day was given to the Church to provide a constant source of conviction, conversion, and reliance. God wants us to place our trust in Him - to give up our worldly selfseeking pursuits, and rely on Him completely - to let Him be our Lord - the freedom and peace that this brings is impossible to quantify in human material terms - the benefit is eternal - the rewards are in the next life - not this one.

The church is not simply a social organization - it is an organization that exists to save souls - meaning to turn souls from evil to love. I use the term love rather than good - because love is a community action - it is not inwardly focused - it is focused outward selflessly at someone else - for NO other reason than that we want to help the other person - not for any reward - not for any brownie points, not to get into heaven - unconditional - without strings attache- for the sake of love itself -
I love my wife and family in this way - I love God in this way - and I know God loves me in this way - because He himself came down as a man and died for me - a selfseeking sinner - He loved me first unconditionally so that I can love others the same way - without this kind of love - there is no point in our existence - there was no reason for God to create us - in fact He made us to love.

The church draws us into this love continually - at the mass, in the sacraments, in the reading of the word, and in one big prayer that we all engage in continually asking God to renew us and keep us pure and holy - not in our own efforts - which are self seeking but rather because of the Holy Spirit - It is God who shines in us - like the moon shines because of the sun. We have no light without Him - and this reliance, and trust is what He wants - think of the Apostle John, St John the beloved disciple who rested His head in Jesus lap at the last supper - completely relying on Him in complete devotion and trust - that is where we should be - at peace with Him and each other because we are united in Him in our church - without it - what hope is there ??
none - at all.


From reading some of your other postings, I can understand your frustration and ability to predict which roads to nowhere a discussion is going to take (after all, you just took one of those yourself).

However, that doesn’t exonerate you from giving a straight answer and attacking the question upfront, especially a question leaning in your favor. I know you’re probably just bursting with opinions, so why don’t you wriggle yourself out and be the first worm?

Be the Agnostic Angry Annelid! :smiley:


[LEFT]Hi Laurence,[/LEFT]

[LEFT]Your question is similar to this one :[/LEFT]

[LEFT]“Can my life be more useful if I don’t ever acknowlege my parents again, if I just act as if they did not exist?”[/LEFT]

[LEFT]You can see at once that the concept of “usefulness” does not apply here. There is something else in play. Apply the same idea to religion.[/LEFT]

[LEFT]Religion is not judged by its utility. Religion is the way we manage our relationship with God, who knew us before we were born, who brought us into the world out of love so that at the end of our lives, we may enjoy Him for all eternity. It has to do with love, not usefulness.[/LEFT]

[LEFT]Sure having a true relationship with God has some practical results, like acknowledging our universal brotherhood and acting accordingly, like fulfilling God’s purposes in our lives and the resulting “moral code”. And some of these can be at least partially achieved by non-religious endeavors. But that is not the specificity of religion. [/LEFT]

[LEFT]What do you think?[/LEFT]



Haha, okay :wink:

What, from a social standpoint, can religion do that cannot be accomplished through purely secular means? Nothing. Would it be handled perfectly? Of course not – religions don’t do it perfectly either. Would it be done better? Maybe.


That is not the common consensus. Those who hold that view just happen to be very loud.

Humanity is amazing. The natural world is amazing. Athiests, agnostics, and other non-religious people can be very good at explaining that to the rest of humanity. Social institutions have one main role- the betterment of mankind. People of all faiths, and people of no faith can appreciate that- so that is where we find our common ground Athiests/agnostics/other non-religious people say what things are and how amazing they are- as people of faith, we echo their amazement- but we give a different explanation than simple chance as to where it all came from.


I’m having the same problem here (hi, Mirdath) that I had with the original post. I agree with what Verbum said. In other words, the question presupposes that Christianity’s purpose is utilitarian. It isn’t. Its purpose is to reveal the truth behind reality to the world that otherwise could not reason to it, at least not in its fullness and with guaranteed accuracy.

So, for example, when I read: “What, from a social standpoint, can religion do–” I stop right there. I think to myself, “This betrays a misunderstanding of what religion is FOR.”

Christianity didn’t make my life better socially. It didn’t provide “comfort” or “reassurance” or any of the other things people mistakenly say Christianity is supposed to do. In fact, if anything, it did the opposite for a while. But what it did do—what it is supposed to do—is reveal to me the truth about God and myself.

Of course, once those things fall into place, there is a great deal of utilitarian value to the truth, as well. But that’s almost irrelevant, wouldn’t you agree?


Satisfying post. :tiphat:

However, we must admit religion *does *go beyond merely explaining the “how’s and why’s” of nature. It sets forth teaching about morality, ethics, charity, good works, and ultimately, what a good society would be like. These are its contributions to society as a whole, but what I am infering from you is that you think a good, moral society could exist without such an abritrating institution.

Is that your position?


Excellent post :clapping:. I’ll even go as far to say I stand corrected, as I now admit my question completely messed up the purpose of religion.

Of course, what I’m getting at is that, in order to be true with Christ’s teachings, the Church would have to help relieve the hunger, suffering, and extreme poverty of the world. Surely this is somehow intertwined with revealing the truth of Christ, especially since good preaching only occasionally involves words.

Now, as a believing Catholic, I have consistently believed in the necessity of Christ’s teachings for a humble, humane, just society. However, my question I suppose is this: Could a society remain true to the example of Christ without actually believing in or acknowledging him? :hmmm:

(not sure if this is meant for another thread. If so, let me know)


Indeed so. What you describe are the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter to the homeless, and so on and so forth. Charity and social aid was a large part of the teachings both of Jesus and of the early Church.

Now, as a believing Catholic, I have consistently believed in the necessity of Christ’s teachings for a humble, humane, just society. However, my question I suppose is this: Could a society remain true to the example of Christ without actually believing in or acknowledging him?

As a non-theist, I do not believe in Jesus (and am not entirely certain what that would be); however, I do acknowledge him as a great teacher and moralist. In my own peculiar way, I try to live more or less by the ideals he proposed.

However, Jesus is not the only such teacher ever to come down the road. The world, imperfect as it is, does not entirely lack for examples of humility and charity.

Nor has the ideal of a humble, humane, and just society only been striven for by Christians. You’ve only been around for two thousand years, remember, and less than that in most parts of the world. People have been trying to do better for a lot longer than that, and without direct (or necessarily any) Christian influence. Solon, Hammurabi, Moses, Akhenaten, Pericles, Numa, Gautama, Ashoka, Kung Fu Tze, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, Haroun al-Rashid – and these are only some of the great leaders and lawgivers, not the many more artists, scholars, thinkers, and other visionaries who helped push humanity far forward without being Christian. They’re a pretty mixed bag; conquerors and preachers, warriors and philosophers, all of the above – but every one of them had something to teach the rest of us.


I don’t know if it is probable that those who do not hold any religious beliefs would perform the works of charity in the same capacity as faithful believers do. If you only viewed your life (and therefore your opportunity for any sort of happiness) as the time from birth to death why would you spend any of that time helping others, and not just focusing on your own wants. Now some non-believers might argue that helping others does in fact enrich ones life and contribute to happiness, and this is true enough. But I do not believe it would be logical (according to the logic of non-belivers) for a non-believer to in any way sacrifice their entire lives or risk death for the service of those in need. If someone believes that they have such a short window for happiness and death is the total obliteration of the self why would they risk throwing that limited opportunity away by risking their lives providing aid to those in need?

I don’t think that there are any Blessed Father Damien’s of Molokai amongst non-believers.

So I would say that it is very unlikely that secular institiutions could provide for society in the same capacity that religious institutions can and do.


The Church exists for one mission: the salvation of souls. All her activity springs forth and leads to this central mission.


is not exclusive to religion. In other words, all the charity work, service, and even moral teaching which stem from religion could just as easily arise from a secular, humanitarian worldview.
Yes non-religious organizations can and do provide charity to people.

However the fact remains that the Catholic Church has been the forerunner of charity for the better part of the last 2000 years. Even today it is the largest charity in the world… providing education, medical care, food, etc to many million a year worldwide.

Your question beings another question to mind. If secular entities are capable of replacing religion based charities, whey has it not yet happened? When secularist humanists step up to the plate at the level of the religious community you will have made your point. How would a secular humanist charity work? Would you work only from the donations you receive? Or would you get your money by forcing people to pay taxes?

Your statement here makes some assumptions… or at least seems to. You are assuming that somehow secular society will provide the charity that the religious community has for centuries and that it will some how cause less harm the religious organizations. In the last 150 years, secular governments have caused more harm and more death then any religious organization… with a death toll of about 160 million for communism and fascism in the 20th century, I fear that are wrong to claim moral superiority of secularism. Apparently the morals of secularist and ‘humanitarianism’ are not worth much.

You see, I have no idea what your morals are… secular humanists believe what?

Again it if could why is it not happening already on as large a scale as the Catholic Church does right now?

Why would the golden rule most likely appear in said society? There is nothing that would lead me to believe that.



Yes, the Church *is *a good-intentioned forerunner in providing food, shelter, aid, medicine, and other services to millions of imporverished worldwide. And, as a Catholic myself, I am very much proud of that level of charity.

However, if you even bothered to read my previous posts, you would have noticed that I was mistaken myself and that I even conceded that the Catholic Church is not purely one big, humanitarian relief effort. These works, I have said before, are neccessary to truly live the example of Chirst, yet they go alongside the Church’s *actual *purpose, which is to properly interpret the Bible, carry on Church tradition so as to help “save souls”, and act as an authority on morals, ethics, and charitable works based upon the teachings of the Bible.

However once again, the point I keep trying to get across via rhetorical questions is that perhaps the “living by Christ’s example” is not exclusive to people who accept him as a divine figure who saved us from our sins.

You keep assuming that such a faithless-based organization would exist merely to give credit to their cause. I’m sure atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers can be compassionate. In fact, my first open, honest, and friendly discussion with a pro-choicer about abortion was with an agnostic. Sure we didn’t agree, but we had mutual respect and he didn’t shrug off my pro-life position as being based on my “irrational belief in God”. Have you ever crossed bridges and have good talks with non-believers?

Also, why do you worry so much about who gets seen doing the most work? I know Jesus says somewhere in Mathew that the Pharisees and high priests who made public displays of being generous to the poor were only upsetting God, as it was out of pride.

Sure I don’t believe that atheists/agnostics are all that correct in their belief systems (sorry Mirdath), but who’s to say their intentions are selfish? I’ll just leave that to God and pray that such people will come to accept Him. However, I will never condemn them! :tsktsk:

After all, if you (as a Christian) worked at a soup kitchen all your life, would it be right if an atheist said: “You’re just doing that to promote Christianity!” :hmmm:

If you read my first post, I attributed the “Church causes harm” part to the non-religious perspective. Personally, I believe all the excessive harm blamed on the Church had to do with ordinary people not following the teachings of Christ when they should have most.

I could go into how Hitler was not an atheist and all that, but that would lead to another discussion and you wouldn’t get my point. Who says I’m claiming moral superiority for secularism? I’m not:crying:! In the same way that Spanish oppression of natives in the world does not represent true Catholic morals or teachings, the actions of secular governments over the past 150-so years does not represent *their *morals, either. Frankly, I think that such genocidal tendencies occur whenever one group wrongfully empowers itself over another.


Well then, the day I tell you what the morals of secular humanists are is the non-existent day I actually become one.

Again, stop trying to degrade the Church’s work to mere “credit-gaining”. We all know the Church’s humanitarian work is unsurpassed, but really, is this supposed to be a point or a brownie point??? :ehh:

If you really believe that all morals stem from the grace of God, that’s one thing. But, if you’ve never met one good Atheist or Agnostic, that’s another. :coffeeread:


To answer your opening post (hopefully) succinctly, all reigious organizations (because they are seeking something greater than mere utility) will provide better servcies. Religions like Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam have a fundemental, built-in capacity for sical-betterment. These capacity is not some “recognition/vote-getting scheme”. Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims believe that it is their duty to “better” society.

Christians (Catholic and Protestant alike) are called to charity out of love for our neighbors. We provide funds, material, and services to people because we genuinely want them to be better off…because we love them as fellow creatures of God: “Are we not all sons of the same Father?” (Voltaire, Treatise on Toleration). We are also called not to ask for rewards for our services. Thus, we will work hard to enusre that people are actually bettered by our actions. The fact that welfare abuse in PA is at an all time high (due to failure to aide by federal guidelines) and the governor refuses to fix it provide an example, as does Social Security. Are our elected officials and their government programs really looking out for the people’s best interest, or are they seeking to lock up votes for next year’s elections?


I think I need to work on my humility more. Usually, even if I am SURE I’ve made a slip-up on something, I don’t come right out and admit it. (I’m not being sarcastic, either; blessings to you.)

I was just wondering if your question could be answered empirically. That is, does anyone know of a culture without any Christian history in it (either secular or other-religion) which has developed the socially beneficial mechanisms which cultures have that have been influenced by Christianity? I know Islam has the alms-to-the-poor rule, but I don’t know how well that works. Anyone know of other cultures? How about pre-Christian cultures? Was there ANY pre-Christian or non-religious culture with a significant concern for aiding the poor or downtrodden?

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.