“Religion is false, but useful!” Comment on Matthew Parris on religion
Perhaps the right way to think about religion as a tool is as a catalyst. It does seem to have a supercharging power. Take our tendency to strive to improve our collective lot, to be benevolent and caring, etc. Add a pinch of religion, and the tendency is magnified.
However, the catalytic power works just as well with negative tendencies, such as the desire to dominate and exploit. Take the subjugation of women, mix in a few drops of the heady brew of religion, and watch how much more entrenched and hard-to-shift the subjugation becomes; add a few drops more, and watch how some become sufficiently intoxicated to start flinging acid in the faces of young girls who dare to attend school. Add a dollop of religion to homophobia, and suddenly the attitude becomes far more difficult to shift, grounded as it now seems to be in holy scripture. Mix some religion into an oppressive regime, and watch how its domination is magnified by the thoughts that God is on their side, that God has ordained them as leaders, that those who reject them are the enemies of God, etc. Take one slightly dodgy but charismatic leader, rub on a bit of religious snake-oil, and watch as he – it’s almost always a he – takes on the irresistable persuasive powers of a David Koresh or the Reverend Jim Jones.
The catalytic power of religion is, in and of itself, morally neutral.
Yes, Parris can point to its application in positive ways, and can note how effective it has been in magnifying the positive. Dramatically effective.
But then, it has, often as not, magnified the negative. Dramatically.
Moreoever, once evangelical religion has been introduced into a community, it’s a bugger to deal with when things start to go wrong. Attitudes can metamorphize fairly quickly, so that what started out as benign can quickly become highly toxic. And now you’re really in trouble, because, being evangelically religious, it’s now going to be very hard for any rational arguments and objections to reach them.
Introducing evangelical religion into a situation where there is already a great deal of corruption, homophobia, misogynism, etc. and yes, you may get some good impressive short-term effects. More dramatic effects than you could get by other means. But, boy, you are playing with fire.
Secularist, humanist views combined with a rational rather than a faith-based approach to problems may not have the short-term positive effects of evangelical religion. I admit they probably lack the dramatic impact religion can have.
But, over the long haul, such views are, I’d suggest, far more constructive and beneficial. And far less risky. I point to how Western civilization has gradually improved over the last 400 years since the Enlightenment.
Of course these are largely assertions, not here backed up by evidence, etc. But I think they are plausible claims and put them up for discussion (n.b. I know some religious folk will at this point start banging on about how the Holocaust was the fault of such Enlightenment-inspired secular views.)