Why religion is essential

An interesting arcticle by Susan Blackmore who changed her mind about the critical importance of religion for the flourishing and maintenance of human culture.

theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2010/sep/16/why-no-longer-believe-religion-virus-mind

Thank you. May I add the following from George Washington’s Farewell Address of 1796?

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

“It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?”

The only act of worship worthy of God is the Mass. (Also of praise, thanksgiving, atonement etc.)

I see nothing meritorious in this woman’s statements. While recognizing some of the positive results of religion on society she still treats it is as a disease. She just isn’t sure any longer on how it is spread or which germ it resembles. :frowning:

Most of her argument turns on the apparently unquestioned assumption that having more children is axiomatically better than having fewer children.

She now admits that religion is positive for human survival and flourishing, instead of negative. That’s as good as you’ll ever get from a convinced atheist:

Data from 82 countries showed almost a straight line plot of the number of children against the frequency of religious worship, with those who worship more than once a week averaging 2.5 children and those who never worship only 1.7 – again below replacement rate

When European Jews were classified as orthodox, nonreligious and atheist, the atheists averaged around 1.5 children per woman and the religious Jews nearly three

All this suggests that religious memes are adaptive rather than viral from the point of view of human genes, but could they still be viral from our individual or societal point of view? Apparently not, given data suggesting that religious people are happier and possibly even healthier than secularists. And at the conference, Ryan McKay presented experimental data showing that religious people can be more generous, cheat less and co-operate more in games such as the prisoner’s dilemma, and that priming with religious concepts and belief in a “supernatural watcher” increase the effects.

So it seems I was wrong and the idea of religions as “viruses of the mind” may have had its day. Religions still provide a superb example of memeplexes at work, with different religions using their horrible threats, promises and tricks to out-compete other religions, and popular versions of religions outperforming the more subtle teachings of the mystical traditions. But unless we twist the concept of a “virus” to include something helpful and adaptive to its host as well as something harmful, it simply does not apply.

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