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Defending the Faith: How religious faith benefits society

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  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    June 6, 2013 9:03 a.m.

    Even if we grant Dr. Peterson all of these “religion is useful” conclusions, it still leaves us with the question, “is religion (any religion) true in any objective sense or does it simply function as a motivational placebo?

    And all of this would be fine if religion only ever concerned itself with ethics and living a good life… but it doesn’t. Most religions make incompatible truth claims about God, the nature of the universe, the afterlife, and most importantly how God has revealed himself to mankind – scared books, prophets, etc. – and thus who we should listen to (follow, obey) to know God.

    And some of these religions, when push comes to shoves, will brutally assert these claims for fear of endangering their immortal souls if they don’t.

    So if we can convince our religious bothers & sisters to get out of the incompatible truth claim business and simply focus doing the sorts of things Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount, then most of the problems with religion go away.

    If not, religion might continue to benefit its adherents until it (self) fulfills its own apocalyptic prophecies.

  • Weber State Graduate Clearfield, UT
    June 6, 2013 9:56 a.m.

    Many academics generally have no problem recognizing the functional benefits that religion provides to society. When examining religion in a social and cultural context, one can quickly agree that religion is an important social institution that contributes to social cohesion and helps maintain social order. However, it's easy to overlook religion's dysfunctions.

    The problem I have is when religion claims to have a monopoly on truth based upon supernatural or transcendental evidence. Furthermore, since humans have a natural fear of the unknown, followers often reject reason in favor of feelings because of the security that comes with outstanding religious promises of salvation.

    Such passive submission and willingness to rationalize away the relevance, significance, or importance of opposing evidence brings out all manner of religious charlatans willing to exploit people's fears in an effort to secure their own power base. Although practicing "spirituality" can provide important human benefits, reason protects us from such exploitation--assuming we are not willing to throw it away in favor of feelings.

  • Verdad Orem, UT
    June 6, 2013 11:19 a.m.

    Tyler D.: It's not at all clear that religion would continue to confer the benefits that it apparent does if "believers" no longer actually believed its truth claims. So your proposed solution, even if you could convince us that it would actually be a wise move, seems very unlikely to work.

  • fkratz Portland, OR
    June 6, 2013 11:46 a.m.

    Non-religious parents, after reading How the West Really Lost God, explain to their children that in order to have a "statistically" better shot at a longer, more giving life, with better disease recovery, a better marriage and more happiness, they may want to attend church regularly. Would it still count if one went to church, involved themselves in the social community building aspects and denied any of the supernatural parts? The mind is an amazing thing.

    By the way, I would find these data, supporting religious practice as the key to a better life, more salient if the data collected were for a period of multiple generations. It is important to remember that moving away from religion is a very recent phenomenon, especially considering the length of time religions have influenced the human psyche where for thousands of years, religions made people an offer they dared not refuse.

  • procuradorfiscal Tooele, UT
    June 6, 2013 12:03 p.m.

    Re: "So if we can convince our religious bothers & sisters to get out of the incompatible truth claim business and simply focus doing the sorts of things Jesus talked about . . . ."

    Yeah, that'll happen.

    It's always enlightening to have a couple callow atheists instruct us on how we should conduct our religious affairs.

    They're always so knowledgeable and understanding of the complexities involved, and have such great insight and helpful suggestions as to how other people ought to be forced to live their lives.

  • Verdad Orem, UT
    June 6, 2013 12:13 p.m.

    fkratz: Unbelief and secularism aren't entirely new phenomena, and the relevant studies -- I'm familiar with a number of them -- cover varying periods of time. Some take a lengthy historical view.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    June 6, 2013 12:28 p.m.

    @Verdad – “It's not at all clear that religion would continue to confer the benefits that it apparent does if "believers" no longer actually believed its truth claims.”

    You may be (sadly) correct… seems like “belief” might be a necessary component for placebos.

    I would add though that there are an increasing number of people on the planet who call themselves spiritual - which I take to mean part of a “divine” something bigger than themselves they can access - who do not believe in most or any of the supernatural stuff many religions do (talking snakes, virgin births, burning bushes chiseling stone tablets, etc….)

    Also, Buddhists (a religion so agnostic that is hardly fits the description) have been doing what you say is unlikely to work for 2600 years and in terms of conferring all the benefits Dr. Peterson alluded to, in general I would hold them up against any religious/ethical system in the world (e.g., how is it that Tibet, a country which has suffered inequities as a great as any in the modern era, has not produced a legion of suicide bombers or terrorists?).

    @procuradorfiscal

    Why so angry? And who mentioned “force?”

  • fkratz Portland, OR
    June 6, 2013 12:37 p.m.

    Verdad- OK, so which which nations have the highest life expectancy? Which nations rank highest on the world well-being index? Which countries rank highest in the inequality adjusted Human Development Index which ranks countries by a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, income and health.

    If you want to compare a basket of the world's most religious nations, with the most irreligious nations on indices of human development, you'll quickly find that many of the most religious places on earth rank at the bottom of the index even though for example, nations like Afghanistan have a very high fertility rates.

    Again, the movement away from religion is growing faster now than ever in history and it is this "movement" which is remarkable.

  • A Scientist Provo, UT
    June 6, 2013 1:00 p.m.

    No fair-minded analysis is complete until it takes into account not only "how religious faith benefits society", but also "how religion/faith harms individuals and societies".

    Of course, a fair-minded analysis is not what Mr. Peterson gets paid to carry out.

    Most of the assertions Mr. Peterson lists (in defiance of Matt. 6:1, BTW) are benefits that accrue to societies from any social club, association, institution or other organization created by humans to accomplish positive social and humanistic ends.

    In other words, societies benefit from a wide variety of human cooperative endeavors, not just "religious faith" (which is a muddled concept needing to be unpacked). That "religious faith" also involves human cooperative endeavors is incidental, rather than fundamental to whatever it is we mean by "religious faith".

    In short, Mr. Peterson falls (knowingly?) into the fallacy of illusory correlation, and giving "religious faith" credit for benefits that are not fundamentally attributable to the essence of "religious faith". Put another way, and as we have seen throughout history, the religious apologists hijack and appropriate the "benefits" to society (or even the very existence of civil society) they do not deserve; simultaneously ignoring the obvious harms of religion.

  • Verdad Orem, UT
    June 6, 2013 1:13 p.m.

    I join in "A Scientist's" condemnation of Peterson for deceptively refusing, in his

  • coltakashi Richland, WA
    June 6, 2013 4:05 p.m.

    You guys who claim to be rational atheists are arguing against objective evidence discovered through scientific research that people actively involved in religious communities are more willing to give up their time and money to help other people. Contrary to your utopian fantasies about the more enlightened state of atheist rationalism, there is scientific reason to believe that the people in your ideal society will be far less helpful to those in need than many of the people in our present society. There is nothing preventing an atheist from being kind and generous, but there is nothing in his belief system that encourages him to do so, nor to recommend it as a course of action to others. Some atheists have bragged that they are kind without the mercenary motive of doing it to receive rewards in heaven. But the scientific evidence tells us atheists in many cases forego both heaven and the act of kindness.

  • sharrona layton, UT
    June 6, 2013 4:56 p.m.

    RE:Christian commitment has waned:

    There is hope Christians should pray for revival. There were "Awakenings" around the years 1727, 1792, 1830, 1857, 1882 and 1904. More recent revivals include those of 1906 (Azusa Street Revival), 1930s (Balokole), 1970s (*Jesus people) and 1909 Chile Revival which spread in the Americas, Africa, and Asia among Protestants and Catholics.

    *The Jesus movement was a movement in Christianity beginning on the West Coast of the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s and spreading primarily through North America and Europe, before dying out by the early 1980s.
    They often include, false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves(Mt 7:15)

    RE: Tyler D, focus doing the sorts of things Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount. True,

    Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.(Mt 5:3) Poor in spirit in contrast to the spiritually proud and self-sufficient . Theirs is "the Kingdom of heaven".
    “Blessed,” Greek Divine passive, actually God Blesses, in the Second Temple Judaism the fear of taking God’s name in vain was great.

  • fkratz Portland, OR
    June 6, 2013 4:56 p.m.

    coltakashi- Neither Warren Buffett nor Bill Gates would meet the definition of being Christian. Yet, these two men will give away billions of their wealth for the greater good of humanity, without the need for proselytizing. If you can't understand what would encourage a non religious person to give away massive amounts of money, then you are far too narrow minded and not looking hard enough. And frankly, the self righteous certainty of your comment is probably the thing that bothers me most about those who claim knowledge with no evidence and makes any kindness you may have to offer very suspect.

  • Verdad Orem, UT
    June 6, 2013 5:09 p.m.

    I'm not sure why my full comment didn't appear above. Here, from memory, is approximately how it went:

    I join in "A Scientist's" condemnation of Peterson for deceptively refusing, in his less-than-750-word column, to fully nuance the hundreds of studies he referenced, to rigorously differentiate between the benefits conferred by faith-based communities and those conferred by secular associations, to precisely define "religion" and "faith" and "religious faith," and to weigh the positives and negatives of religion's impact on world history over the past six thousand years.

    The man plainly deserves to have his integrity called into question and to be portrayed as, very likely, an unscrupulous mercenary,

    And, by the way, I apologize for somehow omitting the "-ly" from the "apparently" in my first post, above.

  • procuradorfiscal Tooele, UT
    June 6, 2013 5:44 p.m.

    Re: "Why so angry? And who mentioned 'force?'"

    One would be wrong to mistake a freely admitted sense of irony in my comments for anger. Atheists' extreme sensitivity and aversion to anything they perceive as challenge or affront to their apparently tenuously-held belief system, is comically incongruous with their perpetual willingness to step unbidden into ours, analyze perceived "sins," and define a course that would make us more palatable to them. As if that were important to us.

    It's just funny.

    Who mentioned force? I did.

    But so have several prominent anti-religion activists. Suggesting the use of legislative force to suppress religious practice and belief as "dangerous" to society, for example.

    Which was my point.

  • EternalPerspective Eldersburg, MD
    June 7, 2013 6:31 a.m.

    It's easy to spot articles that will trigger the atheists to rapidly, intensely, and utterly dennounce faith with so called "reason", while simultaneously denying the existence of any purposeful war on Christianity.

    But, to the defenese of non-believers, man-made religion has its own littered history of forced coercision with thought manipulation and control. Neither side is justified and both believe their cause is correct. What they share is the desire to convert the other.

    Faith in God and contrary worldly claims in Science and other disciplines can only be comparatively analyzed to a certain point. In the end, one either believes in God and receives a personal affirmation of that truth, or they reside to hold worldly truths as supreme where humanity and its intelligence is a biological byproduct.

    Jesus said, ye cannot serve mammon and God. The polarization of the world into two camps, the believers and unbelievers, cuts across ideological lines. It is not a concidence nor chance that such divisions are rapidly taking hold in every nation. In western countries that were once religious capitals for Christianity, this is no more apparent. But, didn't prophets predict this would happen? Why is anyone surprised?

  • bandersen Saint George, UT
    June 7, 2013 9:58 a.m.

    The typical response of the anti-religion crowd is to press the most arcane argument against religion, which is to separate 'religion' from the sermon on the Mount, as if The Sermon on the Mount and Jesus' teachings had nothing to do with God or religion. This is the most bizarre,inexplicable deviation from a logical argument that one could put forth. It is immature at the least and outright deceit at the worst. As Dostevsky said, '...if there is no God, everything is permissible.' Just because an atheist today is protected by religious truths borne by generations of Americans and Constitutional protections, one only has to look at Communist Russia, to use just one, under Stalin and Lennin to know what man is capable of doing without God's truth. Athiests ought to step back and think a little bit about the ground they stand on, foundational freedoms, that make their expressions even permissible, for in their institutional beliefs, there is only a path strewn with murder, gas chambers, and Siberian gulags.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    June 7, 2013 10:22 a.m.

    @procuradorfiscal – “Atheists' extreme sensitivity and aversion to anything… zzzzzzzzzzz”

    You could tell all that from the question “why so angry?” I would say you have psychic powers were it not for that whole lack of accuracy thing.

    And just curious – is your definition of Atheist someone who doesn’t believe in Jewish mythology or is it any god (Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, etc…)?

    @procuradorfiscal– “Suggesting the use of legislative force to suppress religious practice and belief as "dangerous" to society…”

    Can’t say I’ve seen that here. Oh wait… you mean when people object to religious folks wanting to monopolize public discourse, invade other’s privacy, dictate healthcare policy, and otherwise seek to maintain their 200+ year old monopoly on running the world’s 1st secular government (designed mostly by Atheists BTW – they called themselves Deists back then)?

    OK, guilty as charged however I only try to do that with my right to free speech and my democratic vote.

    You?

    @bandersen – “This is the most bizarre, inexplicable deviation from a logical argument that one could put forth.”

    So that’s your response to Thomas Jefferson (e.g. Jefferson Bible)… please.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    June 7, 2013 10:25 a.m.

    ",,,,Secularists increasingly question whether churches should enjoy tax exemption. Perhaps they should ask, instead, how the state can more effectively support and nurture such useful private institutions...."
    ______________________________

    It's not the role of the state to "support and nurture" religion. The state's legitimate responsibility in that area is to ensure the right of people to believe as they so choose.

  • Weber State Graduate Clearfield, UT
    June 7, 2013 11:59 a.m.

    "...for in their institutional beliefs, there is only a path strewn with murder, gas chambers, and Siberian gulags."

    And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

    For in their institutional beliefs, there is only a path strewn with murder and torture such as the Catholic wars against heretics, the Spanish Inquisition, historic massacres during the Christian Crusades, the liquidation of the Albigensians, the Islamic jihads and terrorism against infidels, witch hunts, the Catholic-Protestant terrorism in Northern Ireland, religious tribalism in Lebanon, the barbaric cruelty of the theocracy in Iran, and the historical KKK lynching's with the intent to "reestablish Protestant Christian values in America."

    Although I'm not an atheist, perhaps the pro religion crowd ought to step back and think a little bit about the historical ground they stand on.

  • bandersen Saint George, UT
    June 7, 2013 7:39 p.m.

    Weberstategrad: Being a recent graduate of an accredited university should give you the skills to add up the number of deaths at the hands of Communistic regimes versus the number of deaths at the hands of extreme religionists. The numbers aren't even close. Even the most conservative estimates of Stalin and Lenin put that number over 40 million, while reliable estimates put it nearer one hundred million. Add to that the holocaust and a host of other atheistic approaches to a humane world, your views of the extreme religionists are dwarfed to not even allow comparison. I stand by my original statement. The Anti-God crowd is a dangerous crowd once power is locked in place.

  • fkratz Portland, OR
    June 7, 2013 8:07 p.m.

    bandersen- That atheism was somehow responsible for the greatest of human crimes (for those keeping score), totally misconstrues what occurred in those societies and the psychological and social forces at work. Fascists and communists supplanted national religion with worship of the Party. Stalin, for example, was still worshiped even though he had caused the starvation of millions in the Ukraine. For a current example, see North Korea and its worship of "Dear Leader". The destruction within those societies were the products of dogmas run amok.

    If you want to add to the death count of religious induced killing, read about the Taiping Rebellion which took an estimated 20 million lives, and began when Hong Xiuquan believed himself to be the son of God and went about to reform China and grow his Heavenly Kingdom. The result was the worst civil war in history.

  • bandersen Saint George, UT
    June 7, 2013 9:12 p.m.

    FKRATZ: Your bizarre tinseled connection of Hong Xiuquan to Christianity is a farce. How one could equate this man to Christian ideals and teachings is deceitful. Stalin and Lenin, on the other hand, did not equivocate in stating their atheistic view, which directly lead to the extermination of many, many millions. The Anti-God crowd is the most dangerous crowd ever when locked into power.

  • Wastintime Los Angeles, CA
    June 7, 2013 9:54 p.m.

    Dr. Peterson and conservatives love to quote Arthur Brook's work on charitable giving. Boston University did research on charitable giving and found that when cost-of-living and taxes are taken into account, Blue states do very well in ranking of most charitable states. In Boston University's work, data shows that UT is #1 in charitable giving to religious organizations but give very little ($88 annually) to secular causes.

    How do churches rate as charitable organizations? Many charitable organizations publically report financial statements so that donors can evaluate how donations are spent. But few churches do. Churches don't reveal how much they collect and what percent of that money goes for charitable purposes. While church adherents may take it on faith that donations are largely going for charitable purposes it is purely speculative.

    If the Republican Party represents the state of religious adherents in the U.S., I would say religion is indeed in very bad shape and it is no wonder why fewer people are choosing not to become involved in organized religion.

  • windsor City, Ut
    June 8, 2013 10:05 a.m.

    "...but to unbelievers who, while they may resist the thought, have long reaped the benefits of living among the faithful."

    Thats what unbelievers get in Utah.

  • Truthseeker SLO, CA
    June 8, 2013 10:23 a.m.

    Religion
    "Of the estimated $101.00 billion given by all donors to religious causes, 20.1 percent ($20.28 billion) is estimated to have gone toward benevolences focused on the poor. Another 3.8 percent of the total ($3.86 billion) is estimated in benevolences contributed in response to needs in a general population and not focused specifically on the needs of people in lower income groups. The remaining 76.1 percent ($76.86 billion) went to congregational operations."

    ("Patterns of Household Charitable Giving by Income Group, 2005" The Center on Philanthropy, Indiana University)

  • G L W8 SPRINGVILLE, UT
    June 8, 2013 12:43 p.m.

    The bitterness that comes out in criticism to every one of Dr. Peterson's articles is based on anything but reason. Why do those who tout their reliance on reason express such strong feelings against the views of the man or his apologetics for the believer?

  • Weber State Graduate Clearfield, UT
    June 8, 2013 3:40 p.m.

    bandersen:

    I find it simply fascinating how you apply a standard to one group and then simply ignore that same standard when it exposes the group you are defending, all based upon a silly score card.

    Then you attack me personally.

    There are 20 common logical fallacies used by people who are unable to effectively defend a position. You, my friend, are guilty of using the logical fallacy of inconsistency...applying criteria or rules to one position and then ignoring them for others.

    So I guess that keeping score on actual numbers for murder and torture somehow absolves religion from their murderous and tortuous past...simply because of a score card?

    While you are at it, look up the term ad hominem...another logical fallacy regarding personal attacks.

  • Whos Life RU Living? Ogden, UT
    June 10, 2013 7:59 a.m.

    "It's easy to spot articles that will trigger the atheists to rapidly, intensely, and utterly dennounce faith with so called "reason", while simultaneously denying the existence of any purposeful war on Christianity."

    War on Christianity? How many Christian presidents have we had?

    This is closer to the truth, America has had a very long war against reason and logic.