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Religion as a Force for Good - Comments

DV82XL's Avatar Comment 1 by DV82XL

Well they say Benito Mussolini made the trains run on time, but that's not to say that Fascism, 1932 style, was a good thing in the long run - or that time to time we need dictators to straighten things out.

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 14:39:00 UTC | #71000

elfinabout's Avatar Comment 2 by elfinabout

Recent bestsellers by Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and others suggest that religious faith is a sign of backwardness, the mark of primitives stuck in the Dark Ages who have not caught up with scientific reason. Religion, we are told, is responsible for violence, oppression, poverty and many other ills.

...if the cap fits...

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 14:40:00 UTC | #71001

elfinabout's Avatar Comment 3 by elfinabout

Comment #74581 by DV82XL on September 29, 2007 at 3:39 pm
Well they say Benito Mussolini made the trains run on time

And in fact, he didn't even do that. The advancements in the rail services happened shortly before he came to power. It was later wrongly attributed to him.

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 14:58:00 UTC | #71003

BaronOchs's Avatar Comment 4 by BaronOchs

Romantics might say that Buddhism is unlike other religions, more a philosophy than a faith. But this would be untrue. It has been a religion in different parts of Asia for many centuries, and can be used to justify violent acts as much as any other belief.


What?? how does anything said there go to show it is a religion rather than a philosophy?

Many Buddhists do think they will be reborn in future lives, or even reborn into one of the several realms of being on the wheel of life...some even believe they may receive aid from certain bodhisattvas and so on. There is hardly evidence for any of these so they are a matter of faith. Buddhsim still differs from theistic religion though. The 4 noble truths, for instance, may be correct or otherwise, but they're not saying "God did certain things in galilee a couple of millenia ago and you've just got to believe that".

visionaries, romantics and true believers are driven by their beliefs to take risks that most of us would regard as foolhardy. It is, on the whole, not beneficial to be ruled by such heroes, but it is good to have them around when we need them.


Being driven by some radical moral or political ideal is different from uncritically accepting unprovable religious dogma.

Sloppy article I think.

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 15:07:00 UTC | #71006

BAEOZ's Avatar Comment 5 by BAEOZ

If I recall correctly, our esteemed Dr. Benway once said that "It's about the basis, not the content." Yes, sometimes people of faith or religion can do good, and lots of times bad. That doesn't make their god or whatever real. It's based on lie. These people could do good without faith too. Couldn't they?

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 15:16:00 UTC | #71008

atp's Avatar Comment 6 by atp

The world isn't black and white. Of course something good comes from religion too. Denying that would be stupid.

But still we should look at the sum of how religion affect our world, and that is in my oppinion predominately negative.

And even if it the sum of effects were positive, it still wouldn't make it right to delude people into believing in lies.

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 15:19:00 UTC | #71010

crumbledfingers's Avatar Comment 7 by crumbledfingers

The author keeps mentioning the "moral authority" of the religious. I wonder where this comes from, given that the author admits to not believing any of their religions to be factually true? "Its strength is belief itself, in a moral order that defies secular or indeed religious dictators." So the moral authority of religion comes from the belief in its moral order...? Isn't that just called "morality," or did I miss something?

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 15:21:00 UTC | #71012

Matt H.'s Avatar Comment 8 by Matt H.

Well as Christopher Hitchens keeps saying, 'Think for me a moral action taken by a believer that could not have been taken by a non-believer.' We don't need religion for a force for good.

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 15:37:00 UTC | #71016

SilentMike's Avatar Comment 9 by SilentMike

Leaving aside for a moment that, as mentioned above, all these example fail the Hitchens test, there's an even more important point.

This article, like many in the past, in fact ignores the main point of the rationalists. It's all about whether or not religion can lead to good. Well of course it can, but that's not the point. The point, first and formost, is that religion is false. Only after astablishing that do rationalists go on to say "Oh, and it causes all these problems too". Religion is a lie. People who believe in a lie will, by definition, have a view of reality that is askew. This is a disaster waiting to happen because when you start with wrong premises you get to wrong conclusions. If you don't know how the world works in the most basic sense, then you don't really know anything about anything. And this is of course where we have all those examples of the religious gone mad to choose from. On the other side of that equasion, of course the truth can also cause problems. But at least these problems should be visible to our reasoning because our brains are working properly. To accept faith in your life is basically to walk around with your eyes closed. I would not recommend it. No matter how scary the real world seems, it is better to see where you are and where you're going.

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 15:57:00 UTC | #71021

mjwemdee's Avatar Comment 10 by mjwemdee

This article had absolutely nothing to say. It's like a mouthful of margarine.

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 16:01:00 UTC | #71023

roach's Avatar Comment 11 by roach

Iam Buruma states: "The danger of all dogmas, religious or secular, is that they lead to different forms of oppression."

Thank you for regurgitating Sam Harris' thesis in The End of Faith.

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 16:14:00 UTC | #71025

mmurray's Avatar Comment 12 by mmurray

Presumably

http://www.ianburuma.com/

Nevertheless, faith has an important role to play in politics, especially in circumstances in which secular liberals are rendered impotent, as in the case of Nazi occupation, communist rule or military dictatorship.


So the only people who oppose these things are those with faith ? What an offensive load of rubbish.

Michael

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 16:17:00 UTC | #71027

Logicel's Avatar Comment 13 by Logicel

After finishing this week's Economist coverage on Myanmar, I wondered when a journalist would focus on the religious/faith aspect of the Buddhist monks protest. Lo and behold, here is such an article.

This author must be a godsend to have when shopping in bargain basements, have him close by a particularly deep bargain bin, and he probably could successfully scrape its bottom and come up with a find--a bedraggled sweater unraveling at its hem that could keep you momentarily warm until it completely unravels and is rendered useless for its intended purpose.

It is, on the whole, not beneficial to be ruled by such heroes, but it is good to have them around when we need them.
____

And, pray tell, what do we do with the maniacs when we no longer need their rabid, unquestioning faith-based actions?

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 16:34:00 UTC | #71031

Richard Morgan's Avatar Comment 14 by Richard Morgan

Comment #74605 by mjwemdee
This article had absolutely nothing to say. It's like a mouthful of margarine.
Absolutely nothing? Well, not quite.
I checked out the original article in the LA Times, and discovered that the sub-heading had been omitted here on RD Net:
As the Burmese rebellion shows, it's often the faithful who are inspired to do great things.
Get it? The Burmese angle, that's what makes it interesting and copy-worthy.
It's an old journalistic trick, used to eke out a few column-inches in a news-paper - link up a topical debate and a current event and reveal a new (ha ha) "angle".
Also posting this article here helps ward off criticism from those who would accuse us of ignoring events where the heroes are religites.

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 16:42:00 UTC | #71036

Alovrin's Avatar Comment 16 by Alovrin


Liberals are most needed when compromises have to be made, but not as useful when faced with brute force. That is when visionaries, romantics and true believers are driven by their beliefs to take risks that most of us would regard as foolhardy. It is, on the whole, not beneficial to be ruled by such heroes, but it is good to have them around when we need them

Mr Buruma carves his little niche out here, a liberal riding on the backs of "heroes". And he'll take his hero in any shape or form.
The histories of his three examples Burma, The Phillipines and he drags Poland in as well, are complex something he just seems to ignore in his rush to make his point.

And the beginning of the article is one bloody great strawman.
It has become fashionable in certain smart circles to regard atheism as a sign of superior education, of highly evolved civilization, of enlightenment. Recent bestsellers by Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and others suggest that religious faith is a sign of backwardness, the mark of primitives stuck in the Dark Ages who have not caught up with scientific reason. Religion, we are told, is responsible for violence, oppression, poverty and many other ills.

IYO Mr Buruma.

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 16:46:00 UTC | #71039

Theocrapcy's Avatar Comment 15 by Theocrapcy

I have no idea at all the point of this gushing. A weak moment Iam?

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 16:46:00 UTC | #71038

roach's Avatar Comment 17 by roach

Richard Morgan,

That's a cool avatar.

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 16:54:00 UTC | #71041

sillysighbean's Avatar Comment 18 by sillysighbean

The one driving point that had a significant impact on my thinking from reading the God Delusion was this: Just because religous people do good things, it does not make what they believe true.

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 17:32:00 UTC | #71050

notsobad's Avatar Comment 19 by notsobad

What a chaotic piece of writing. The black and white vision on the world can be seen from most if it, best summarized in:
"Liberals are most needed when compromises have to be made, but not as useful when faced with brute force. That is when visionaries, romantics and true believers are driven by their beliefs..."

Because we all know that you are either a liberal or a visionary, romantic or true believer (in what actually?), and the latter are the only ones who care...

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 17:41:00 UTC | #71052

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 20 by Cartomancer

If Theravada Buddhism is such a force for good, irrevocably opposed to oppresion and tyranny, then why is it that the monks only came out to protest after recent government attacks on activists protesting over hikes in fuel prices rather than back in 1962 when the military Junta first took power in General Ne Win's coup?

Why is it, incidentally, that Burma could remain a military dictatorship for forty-five years if its people are so religious and enamoured by their egalitarian, peace-loving monastic traditions? It is worth noting that the monks' first actions before hitting the streets were to withdraw all spiritual services from government military personnel. This of course indicates that they were providing such services in the first place...

Of course what they are doing now is laudable, but are they doing it because they are Buddhist monks or because they are just as fed up with tyrannical misrule as the rest of the Burmese citizenry? Sure they are icons of morality and legitimacy to these people, but doesn't that mean they are at least tacitly complicit in shoring up the regime by not speaking out sooner? One wonders whether their comparative apathy over the last four decades has not discouraged citizen disobedience, given that their current action is now encouraging it. Might Burma be a free country today had these saffron-wearing ascetics given more thought to their social responsibilities and less to their mystical mumbo-jumbo?

The bottom line is that religion does affect how people behave. It makes some people do bad things and other people do good things - either at random or at least in a far from rationally coherent manner. Do we really want our most important moral conversations held to ransom by archaic myth? Do we really want the incidence of good and ill in our world to turn on the capricious whims of demented prophets?

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 18:21:00 UTC | #71059

Ohnhai's Avatar Comment 21 by Ohnhai

As usual the good that is supposedly done by those of religion could just as easily be done by those of another faith or - more importantly - by someone of no faith. Oppressed people will eventually rise up. The tide of history show us this.

That in this case it was the monks who took the lead is commendable, but not attributable to their faith. Any one group could have done it, it just happened to be them in this case. Had it been the students who kicked this round of protests off would Iam Buruma be pushing that 'being currently in a university education' is a 'force for good'. No, I don't think so. Even if, as is the case, that student bodies have a far, far better track record of speaking out against atrocities and oppression.

The evils that religion drives some of it's adherents to, forces the apologists to seek some indisputable 'good done by religion'. This is to try and counterbalance the atrocities, both historical and contemporary done by people of 'faith'. However, as Christopher Hitchens keeps challenging, what act of 'good' or ethical stance held or done by a religious person can not also be done or held by the staunch atheist?

On the subject of balancing the scales just how many acts of 'good' are required to nullify an act of evil? How many acts of religiously motivated compassion are required to counter a single religiously motivated murder? More than a simple handful is my guess.

Given the histories and contemporary actions of most of the world's religions they are so far into the red on the good/evil scale they could spend the next three thousand years of doing nothing but unambiguous good and still never tip the scales to even, let alone into the black.

No, religion is NOT a force for good. History shows us it is an unmitigated force of evil, set to destroy all in it's path. The occasional act of compassion or civil disobedience done in its name is more down to simple human decency and not the professed theology of people involved.

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 19:01:00 UTC | #71066

Quine's Avatar Comment 22 by Quine

It is essential not to engage on the subject of "good or bad" but, as others have noted, to hold only to what is true.



"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so" Hamlet (Act II, Sc. II).

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 19:07:00 UTC | #71068

NJS's Avatar Comment 23 by NJS

One point - his statement about the catholic church "turning" on the Marcos regime shows the whole thing up. This means that at worst the church previously supported him and at least ignored his excesses. This applies to many countries in South and Central America as well as you could argue Italy and Germany pre-WWII.

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 22:44:00 UTC | #71086

irate_atheist's Avatar Comment 24 by irate_atheist

So, if a bit (or a lot) of faith makes some people do a bit more good than they perhaps otherwise would. So what? I would contend the good is more than outweighed by the bad. And, as others have so rightly pointed out, it's based on a lie anyway. Not a particularly moral basis for doing anything. As for supporting a concept that can be best summed up as 'useful fanatasism', well, just how stupid is that. One man's fanatic is another's martyr and we all know what that results in.

As a card carrying Liberal, I sometimes wonder if my socio-political beliefs are, in fact, a form of faith. But faith in humanity, not gods. I would like to think there was at least a bit of evidence to support my philosophy, but I could be compeltely deluded. You won't get many religites admitting the same about their beliefs.

I take a hard line on religion and don't concede any ground in debate with faith-heads. After all, religion has taken a prety hard line on me in the past, and it deserves a bloody good kicking. Now, where are my shit-kicking boots...

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 23:00:00 UTC | #71091

ridelo's Avatar Comment 25 by ridelo

Methinks that a military junta can only take foothold from within in a society that is ridden with superstition. Is there anybody who knows if that ever happened in a 'moderately' rational society?
For the moment I can't see it happen in most West European countries, but what if irrationalism (not necessarily religious) will grow?

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 23:13:00 UTC | #71092

irate_atheist's Avatar Comment 26 by irate_atheist

Comment #74675 by ridelo -

Ah, well, that would be an ecumenical matter.

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 23:34:00 UTC | #71096

Tumara Baap's Avatar Comment 27 by Tumara Baap

To an extent, I concur. Religion has done good. As it bloody well should have. Countless millions have viewed all that is fine and sublime through the lens of religion. It has been synonymous in the human mind with righteousness. So indelibly engraved in the consciousness is it that most can only think about ethical matters with religion as the sole language of understanding and expression. Would you expect otherwise, when human culture has historically placed religion at the apex of moral authority? The point is that for a cultural trait appointed with so noble a mission, religion has a disappointing track record. Actually, never has sin been so devastatingly excercised as when under the umbrella of God. Given the lofty performance benchmarks accorded to religion, it is laughable that one is compelled to roll out a list of good it has done in its defense.

Viewing goodness through religion is comparable to viewing the world through pair of cataract afflicted eyes. They occlude much of what you see, and yet one may defend such a diseased pair for the shadowy vision that manages to get past. It is tragic if such bad eyes are all one has ever known, that one cannot contemplate what it is like for the cataract never to have been there.

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 23:36:00 UTC | #71097

mmurray's Avatar Comment 28 by mmurray

Methinks that a military junta can only take foothold from within in a society that is ridden with superstition. Is there anybody who knows if that ever happened in a 'moderately' rational society?

I am not sure I see the conection. What about German, Italian and Spanish fascism ? Chile under Pinochet ? The other Latin American right wing dictatorships which probably, like Chile, were CIA operations. The various countries taken over by communism such as Russia and China -- the result was not perhaps what we mean by a military junta probably worse.

Michael

Sun, 30 Sep 2007 00:13:00 UTC | #71101

mmurray's Avatar Comment 30 by mmurray

There is also this little offering from Madeleine Bunting which I posted into the RDF website but which hasn't turned up yet.

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/madeleine_bunting/2007/09/an_enlightened_politics.html

Note the snappy little title `An Enlightened Politics' burma = buddhism = enlightenment :-(

Michael

Sun, 30 Sep 2007 00:17:00 UTC | #71103

aitchkay's Avatar Comment 29 by aitchkay

"I have never personally had either the benefits nor misfortunes of adhering to any religion, but..."

Ah - more 'I'm a atheist buttery'

"Bhuddism...can be used to justify violent acts as much as any other belief."

Putting Bhuddism on an equal footing with Islam and fundamental Christianity is simply dishonest - not all religions are equally harmful.

"It is, on the whole, not beneficial to be ruled by such heroes [visionaries, romantics and true believers], but it is good to have them around when we need them."

Yes, how blessed we are to share our planet with these true believers. Just think how much we'd miss all the jihadis, condom-banning priests, queer-bashing bishops and young earth creationists. Religious values do indeed 'offer an alternative moral universe'.

Sun, 30 Sep 2007 00:17:00 UTC | #71102