Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Religion sticks around for a reason

...and it's not really much about reason.

One of the big mistakes complainers against religion make is based in a misinformed anthropology.  Such complainers denigrate people for not taking evidence into account about their religious claims.[1]  But people do not operate this way in the normal go-about activities of their lives.   Occasionally, when people need to, they take care to bring evidence into account for acting.  But it's rare for people in stable situations to always be taking evidence into account.  Most of the time people live according to their default worldview, one formed by habit and a tolerable level of pragmatic success.  No extra thought is expended in examining something that is working "good enough." 

Ultimately, denigrators of religion seem to be making some sort of ethical complaint.  They seem to be saying that people "should" be constantly assessing one's beliefs in terms of what justifies those beliefs.  But this is an overly intellectualistic worldview, and does not actually represent what people empirically do, how they live their lives. 

Furthermore, the denigrator's view is usually that it would be better for people, somehow, if they were committed to this philosophy of constant assessment in life.  But that is anything but clear to me. 

Socrates said something to the effect that the unexamined life is not worth living.  Is that really so?  Maybe that's a mistaken view.  And, at any rate, it's vacuous, since no one completely lives an unexamined life.  People make choices, and they make them on localized evidence, such as when considering what is likely to result in one thing being more advantageous than another.  So, people regularly consider evidence.  Yes, they consider badly, or attend to the wrong information.  But it's still examination.  And such examinations couldn't be all that inadequate, since people survive and operate within greater society, along with others. 

Religion has the advantage of offering a lot of systematic integration in topics normally requiring lots of independent investigation.  Morality, metaphysics, social conventions, case-studies thru its literature, geography, history -- a regular exposure to and participation in a religions life far exceeds what a trip to the mall and evening after evening of watching television has to offer a person of limited means or even poverty-stricken existence.   And even integration is probably over-rated, as most people want a community, and their worldview is really subordinate to the meaning they find in social interaction with others.



[1] For example, noted new atheist Sam Harris makes these kinds of claims regularly in one form or another, as when he writes, "I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs" (in his book Letters to a Christian Nation).

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