What can you do with religion that you can't do with it?

First off, I’d like to say sorry if I’m not posting this in the proper place. This is my first time posting a thread of my own on these forums and I got a bit confused, but hopefully this is okay. Now, on to the question at hand…

I was having a conversation with a very anti-religious person and they basically asked me, what can you do with religion that you can’t do without it? As a Christian, I know that religion (specifically Christianity) leads to salvation and a loving relationship with God, something that you can’t get any other way. But since this person does not believe in either of those things, I don’t think that will be a very satisfactory answer for them. Sure, I could make the argument that religion promotes virtues such as patience, love, self-control, and so on, has helped many people and changed their lives, etc. But other things besides religion have also done the same. Any suggestions on what I should say? Should I not even bother?

Sorry for the confusing title, I messed it up a bit. :blush: I meant: What can you do with religion that you can’t do without it? Or, in other words, what can religion do that non-religion can’t?

I think the question you were asked by the non-believer is the wrong question.

We don’t follow a religion because of what we can do (or not do). We follow a religion because it’s true.

Thus, it’s irrelevant whether believers vs nonbelievers can engage in different behaviors or not.

The question we ought to be asking is: is religion A true or not?

If it’s true, then we follow it, and what behaviors were do or not do are borne from that.

This. :thumbsup:

And therefore, the question reduces to “what can you do with truth that you can’t do without it?”

(And BTW, the response you’ll likely get is along the same line’s as Pontius Pilate’s line, “what is truth?” … that is, the response will be, “well, which truth? Yours, or mine?” And the believer’s response is a smile and “God’s”. :slight_smile: )

Well, for starters, having religion gives you a rational basis for moral behavior, a meaning to your life, and a validity to human reason. And those are just the benefits you get from religion even if it’s NOT true.

If it IS true, then the benefits increase exponentially: it can get you right with God, heal a damaged soul, give you a glorious and pleasant afterlife, afford you wisdom, grant you blessings, etcetera, etcetera.

Regarding it’s benefits even when it is NOT true, it kind of requires some weird mental acrobatics to go on doing normal human things without a religious context. Even if religion isn’t true, human minds seem to be built with an innate need for it in order to make sense of most of our own behavior. You could even say it is more in accord with our nature to have religion, even if it is not true. It’s a statistical fact that suffering causes more people to be religious than otherwise. Of course, there will always be some who are so intellectually secure in their atheism that even suffering doesn’t touch their lack of faith, but, generally speaking, even in countries with higher tendencies toward atheism, when some disaster happens that causes a lot of suffering, those affected tend to become more religious than they were before. There’s almost an impression that it is a survival mechanism to provide motivation to keep on keeping on since the only logical thing to do if your suffering is meaningless and you can’t escape it is to just off yourself.

I once saw a pretentious atheistic meme that was attempting to “clear up” religious misunderstanding of nihilism. In one half, it showed your stereotypical depiction of nihilism with the caption “nothing matters” and a depressed looking person with their head in their hands, despairing. The next half showed a bunch of people partying as if they had not a care in the world since “nothing matters.” The point was supposed to be that nihilism ultimately brings you joy, but there is a critical problem with the meme, and it is so obvious that I’m surprised the meme even made it into existence. For the starving child in Africa with no hope of survival, the positive interpretation of nihilism doesn’t apply AT ALL.

The answer C.S. Lewis gives in “Man or Rabbit” applies. You can listen to the entire essay in this You Tube video.

The form of the question he is answering is, “Can I be good without Christianity?” But the answer applies to your question as well.

I think it should be acknowledged that all people can be good without Christianity.

However…the thought occurred to me, as a segue to the above, and an actual answer to the OP: one can be good without religion, but one cannot be holy.

And an example of this–there are no instances of atheists who would do what Maximilian Kolbe did: give one’s life out of love for a stranger.

Now, to be sure, there are many heroic atheists, in the military, in service professions, but there are no examples of atheists who are capable of the love, the agape, shown by Believers, in the manner of Maximilian Kolbe.

C.S. Lewis covers that. That’s why it is such a great essay, he gets to the heart of the question. What is “good”? Why would someone want to be “good”? What is “true”? Are “true” and “good” related? That’s why I recommend the essay.

Respecting all humans seems to be with religion a lot easier, at least the numer of atheists caring about unborn babies killed is rather small.

But religion is not about doing or achieving something, but about what is true; it is pretty much irrelevant if some things work as fine without believe in God, if God exists, cause then those not believing are in error.

And if God does not exist, but instead some spaghettimonster created everything, then most theists and all atheists are wrong as well.

The friend’s question assumes that the purpose of life is to get something out of it–what that is, he certainly doesn’t know, I’m sure, but I think he’s trying to be practical when he’s actually reducing life to getting instead of seeing.

Is life nothing more than pleasure that lasts a little while until disease, disability, and finally death ends it all? That’s the real question, isn’t it?

If it is, then what difference does it make if religion make you feel happy or not? Oblivion doesn’t care one way or the other.

No, what he really wants to know is if believing helps you see what life is supposed to be about. Well, the answer is simple, but not necessarily one he wants to hear since he’s probably not disposed to hear it. And that is, believing is seeing–not seeing is believing.

When you believe God is the meaning of everything, you see everything in and through God. When you believe life is meaningless, it is. That’s all there is to that. :wink:

If you don’t believe in God, a lot of answers just sound like people who are superstitious. Step on a crack, break your mother’s back, that kind of stuff. If you leave your tooth under a pillow, a magic fairy will come by and leave you money. Sure they do.

I like these 2 answers that follow. Whether or not your friend can come closer to God with your discussion really depends on the working of the Holy Spirit. I do know that we on Catholic answers are going to be encouraged with the answers here in this thread because you asked the question!

  1. Unbelievers don’t have incorruptible bodies. That can be a whole discussion to open their minds to saints and miracles.

  2. What does religion give you? If we could wave a magic wand and make everyone in the country obey the 10 Commandments, there would be no need for jails. OK, that alone is hard to wrap your head around. Think. No murders. No fraud. No stealing. We can’t even comprehend that there would be no criminals. Then imagine all those criminals who aren’t criminals, working, taking care of their families, contributing to society, volunteering, being coaches, paying taxes. Is this good for the country? of course! Good for the individuals, good for society. Good for families.

If you want to look at another example from obeying the 10 Commandments, you can eliminate teen pregnancies. Babies would have both a mom and dad who are married and committed to each other to help them grow up. Women raising their children who are abandoned by the kid’s fathers is huge in who we see living in poverty. Imagine that gone. Of course there are accidents, deaths of a parent, but compared to the number of single parents existing today, what would you like to see in your country? The 10 Commandments are good for children, good for women, good for families, good for the country.

I hope you find that this is helpful, just by looking at the natural course of events. We know as believers that God and his grace, his power, his love, changes lives. That can be another conversation. Hopefully the person will come to a place to believe that God is with us. This is what we proclaim at Christmas… God is with us!!

This has all been very helpful, thank you!

If the Christian is right then all people can be good regardless of whether they believe or not. If the atheist is right then no one can be good because the concept of good and evil exists no more for man than for animals. There is nothing definitive on which to base a concept of good and evil. Morality becomes just another personal choice, like preferring chocolate to vanilla.


The concept of the Christian God means for a believer that love, goodness, order, reason, purpose, and meaning reside at the very foundations of the universe, and not only for our temporary stay here on earth but on into the unseen future as well. It gives reason and compels us to align ourselves with that same love, goodness, order, reason, purpose, and meaning.

Religion is “the sense of duty which impels a man to render to God the worship and obedience due to Him. This means that it is a form of justice which it is just as dishonest to neglect as our debts to our fellow men. As a matter of fact, we are far more indebted to God than we are to any earthly creditors.”

Sincere Catholic religious practice renders justice to God.

Without religion, we cannot render justice Him.

Reference: radioreplies.info/radio-replies-vol-4.php?t=5


The atheistic paradigm is incoherent when it comes to discussing goodness and morality.

I think your answer is the best. If the person doesn’t believe in heaven and hell, he will when he gets there as Padre Pio told an a person who didn’t believe in hell.

All very good points. Even if I can’t get through to this person, I’m learning more myself. :slight_smile: Every one of your answers is much appreciated.

Let’s pray he believes before he gets there.

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