The Question

Does religion bring happiness and promote well being?

(David) The educated elite in both the Greek and the Roman times did not believe in religion, or were only mild dietists. Of course, the elite on our own Western civilization has not believed in religion for about 300 years.

(Mark) My assertion is that all societies throughout history have had an underling mythology. This implies that the majority of the population must believe the prevailing myths. The task of the educated elite is to discredit the mythos. By discrediting the mythos they define themselves as the educated elite. Ancient Greece is defined by its myths.

(David) As Marx said, religion is mostly the belief of the uneducated (that seems to be being changed today, since most education today is technical or legal, which is not really education in the traditional sense).

(Mark) Marxist theory caused some of the greatest fiasco's in human history! The old USSR still has not recovered from its Marxist collapse. Marx failed to grasp the importance of the mythos. That's why all Marx's societies have failed are in the process of failing. One on the great minds of the 20th century (Einstein) believed in God.

(David) There can be no doubt that religion has killed many societies. Sociology has evidence that religion increases when social pressures increase, that it's a type of adaptive behavior for men living in harsher, closer, poorer environments.

(Mark) All societies will eventually die. It is lack of a common mythos that speeds up the process. One of the defining factors of a society in decline is a lack of morals. Some examples: Greek, Rome, look what's happening to our society without a common mythos. Name me a society (just one) that had too much religion and died.

(David) Religion, when it works like it evidently is supposed to, probably makes a society more stable because by burning people at the stake, etc., it provides a common enemy to hate and kill.

(Mark) True, a common mythos.

(David) Certainly the goal of Christianity is not (earthly) happiness, so I doubt that you could say it makes people happier. It does reduce fear and stress and provides the satisfaction of an evil force. Rulers love it, of course (as do priests).

(Mark) The polls I have read show religious people are happier.

(David) I explained Pascal's wager (and refutation) to you years ago. One final point: All societies before ours knew nothing about the world (in a scientific sense). Shall we conclude that lack of scientific knowledge is "necessary for humans to cope or exist in this world?"

Note: Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662) Pascal's reasoning was that since nothing was know exactly, the christian faith was a good as any other. The gain from such a belief was much greater than the loss for not believing. This is known as Pascal's Wager. However, Pascal's logic was defective in that he considered only two possibilities, when there are four. Another flaw in Pascal's reasoning it the possibility of choosing the correct religion. This is the number of all known religions divided into one.

(Mark) Belief in the mythos is outside the bounds of "scientific knowledge." Einstein had one of the greatest scientific minds in the 20th century, yet he believed in God.

Note: Einstein said he did not believe in any God.

(David) Just because all societies in the past have believed in superstitions, falsehoods, and religion does not mean that it is necessary, justifiable, or will always be the case.

(Mark) The fact that every society has had myths is very strong evidence that it is necessary part of human culture. What else would hold a society together? I am not trying to justify or predicate anything.

(David) All progress has been the result of replacing false beliefs with testable truths. Shall we defend slavery because all societies until about 100 years ago accepted it?

(Mark) Not all societies have had slaves. Slavery came about in a time when cheap physical labor was needed to accumulate wealth. The industrial revolution decreased the need for labor and slavery disappeared. Myths survived these changes because it is an emotional need. You are comparing apples to oranges.

(David) -- Or that disease was caused by evil spirits or vapors? Religion is born out of man's dreams, nightmares, and ignorance. It has probably caused more deaths and misfortune than any other idea invented by mankind. Only when this kind of magical thinking is dead can man think rationally and freely.

(Mark) It is true myths have caused a lot of death and destruction. Science has provided the weapons to increase the body count. Again, I am not trying justify myths. I am stating what is.

(David) Newton also believed in god. Does that make it true? No, of course not. Actually, it's not really clear that Einstein believed in any kind of god that would be accepted as such by most religion-believers. Certainly not any type of personal god, nor any creator. (Many people have discussed his famous statement about god not playing dice and argued that his point was not that there is a god, but that the universe does not have a built-in uncertainty.)

Note: WERNER HEISENBERG (1901 - 1976) When Heisenberg announced his uncertainty principle, Einstein exclaimed, "God does not play dice with the universe." As for the uncertainty principle, Einstein was wrong.

(Mark) The point I was making was that there are very intelligent people who believe in myths. Because myths are an emotional need.

(David) I won't defend Marx's political or economic theories, nor did I cite them. But his observation that religion is the opiate of the masses is certainly true, and is a scientifically testable assertion.

(Mark) How can you scientifically test that a belief (myth) will have the same effects on your body as a narcotic? Why don't drug addicts read the bible instead of shooting up? Bibles are a lot cheaper (sometimes free) than opiates.

(David) That people who believe in fantasies state in a poll that they are happier is no proof that they are. Psychologists since Maslov have demonstrated in more reliable ways that religious people have more fears, strive to live more sheltered lives, have more difficulty dealing with change, and produce unhappy children than free-thinkers. As your Father has pointed out many times, people who are afraid of flying are almost always very religious. Some comparative anthropologists have suggested that the societies with the least religion are the healthiest.

(Mark) What are freethinkers? Are these the people of the 1960's who were "free" and crashed and burned on the excess's of dope and sex? If religious people are so miserable why don't they stop believing? Nothing is forcing people to believe in myths. If you had a thorn in you side would you pull it out or let it fester? The greatest societies in the word have had strong myths: Greece, Roman, France, England, Spain and America. At one point in history all these countries were world powers.

(David) That religious beliefs have hastened the death of societies is a well-documented fact. To name 2 well-known cases: Easter Island and the White Shirt religion that swept through the plains Indians and speed up the demise of their society by at least 50 years. Here's a bigger challenge: Name one society where religion delayed the demise of a society?

(Mark) The cause of the death of Easter Island is unknown according to documentary I saw on PBS. You can't take one trend in isolation and define that as the cause of the collapse of a society. That's an over simplification.

(David) The argument in Gibbon's book is not that Rome fell because of internal moral decay (this is an argument started by Christian apologists), but rather due to external pressures and inbred leadership. In fact, he explicitly says the conversion to Christianity was one cause of Rome's decline and fall. This is why Gibbon was attacked so much by churchmen in his day. (Note: The change from polytheism to monotheism is the root of all discord in religion, i.e., "My God is Better Than Your Gods.")

(Mark) The last Emperor( I believe it was Nero) was converted too Christianity. By all accounts I read, Nero was insane. The fall of Rome took decades. By the time Nero rose to power there wasn't much he could do to destroy or save the empire. (Note: It was Constantine that converted to Christianity but he still embraced pagan religions.)

(David) Finally, by using the word mythos, you obscure your argument. Does mythos include the belief that the Earth is flat, that stars are gods, that the creator of a cosmos wants animals killed and bled for his propitiation, that birth control is a mortal sin, etc. Are all these beliefs "outside the bounds of "scientific knowledge"". Other than very general assertions such as there is a god, all other religious beliefs are certainly within the realm of scientific knowledge. Two examples: a virgin birth and a human coming back from the dead after 3 days. You don't think science has anything to say about these beliefs?

(Mark) It’s hard to define the mythos. Because the definition changes from culture to culture from time to time. The mythos is dependent on people's emotional needs, and these needs change over time. All myths are symbolic. A virgin birth is symbolic of the birth of a prophet. The Buddha was a virgin birth (born out of his mothers side). Symbols are not to be taken literally.

(David) I propose a draw.

(Mark) I accept.

Copyright © 1996-2010 by Lanty H. Wylie, Jr. All Rights Reserved.