Tuesday, November 07, 2006

on religion

I'm positing a new approach on religion after reading a number of negative reviews on Richard Dawkins new book, The God Delusion. I haven't read the book, only the reviews. However, knowing Dawkins from previous books, I'm sure that some of the reviews contain some elements of accurate criticism, mostly because it is really hard to prove a negative such as the concept that gods do not exist. (I say gods, because in this country their are 100s of christian gods promulgated from various pulpits, although Time Magazine recently broke them into four main groups.) However, some of the reviews cite the old Scholastic arguments as proof that Dawkins doesn't know what he's talking about. I'm not including the question of "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin" when I cite scholasticism. What I'm talking about is the claim that since we can conceive of a perfect being, that perfect being has to exist. That is a tautalogical argument, no matter how many ways you try to refine it. Saying something exists because we can conceive of it doesn't make it true. It makes as much sense as saying that because I can conceive of little green men from Mars, they exist. No matter how the theologians build on that claim the foundation thesis is false. If you believe this, build me a brick house on a cloud.

My approach, that I haven't seen a great deal written on, is to start from the basic approach: what has a belief in god, a religion, done for humans that wouldn't have happened otherwise? The quickest claim believers would make, I believe is that a belief in god led us to morality. I doubt that. From all the history and prehistory I've read, morality may have led to a belief in gods, not the other way around. I suggest that morality is nothing more than the human adaption to its need to live together in groups and to be able to survive and be happy in those groups. Long before gods became more than shamanistic spirits in rocks and volcanoes and storm clouds, people had to learn to live together, in small family and clan groups at first, eventually in cities, then nations, and now the world. The gods were developed in the early cities when the kind needed a kind of external, all-seeing power to spy on the miscreants.

A second claim is altruism. Why do some people say people want to help others. Over the years, developments circling around the prisoners' game and similar game plans have shown, indeed, that altruism, in many species, is the key to survival. It is genetic, not religious, although some believers seem to think their altruism comes from their belief in an outside spiritual force.

And, finally, for this post, I think that spirituality as people like to call our concern with the mental impact of a beautiful picture or a meditation is nothing more than various functions of our brain going through a process of healing and of soothing.l


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