Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Religion is a Social Problem

Islamic fundamentalism, Christian evangelicals (maybe), cults, crackpot faith healers, belief in crystal power, and televangelist garbagecreate problems. Why? Well, I'll explain in a minute. Remember that I'm not bashing religion; I'm just pointing out some of the costs that we pay by focusing on religion and spirituality.

Consider all of the money and time wasted each year, in America at least, on seemingly worthless religious activities: going to tent revivals, watching televangelists, donating to televangelists, and meditating with crystals. If 20,000,000 give an average of $100 a year to televangelists, that's $200,000,000 a year that's arguably been wasted. New Age books, crystals, and seminars probably bleed off a few billion more every year. I Iwonder how much money people spend each year on trips to Lourdes? Then there is the time wasted each year.

I guess you could describe the social impact of religion as a set of mathematical equations. X people spend Y hours on watching televangelists. X people spend Y dollars a year on new age books, tapes, and videos. I think you get the idea.

Religion also has other social consequences, that I can't quantify so easily. People could be doing other things with the money and time they devote to dubious religious activities. Maybe the money could be sent to charities that take concrete actions to improve peoples' lives. Maybe people could actively try and make their lives better instead of working to get supernatural comfort and guidance.

Religious belief fuels wars too. I guess you figured that one out, so I'll not beat that horse any more. I wonder if Jainists, Buddhists, or Hindus ever started a war? (India is not a Hindu nation because it officially has a secular government.)

How many times does religious belief make people ignore problems that are obviously caused by human action or by biology. When we say that Down's Syndrome is the will of God we excuse ourselves, as a society, from looking for a way to prevent or cure this condition. When we say that God decides who is rich and who is poor we excuse ourselves from having to care about shocking economic inequality. Religion can sap our humanity, and that is something already in extremely short supply these days.

Maybe, moral laziness is a side effect of having a religious worldview. People stop caring about other individuals because God wants that old guy to be a vagrant. Or,maybe the vagrant is being punished for some offense against the gods. Either way, we are excused from needing to do anything.

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Blogger steve_r_w said...

Is it true to say that money given to religions is wasted? Money given to religions is often channeled into helping the poor, supporting the disadvantaged and education. Setting aside, for the moment, the quality of those services (e.g. being offered with prosletysing included) and the high overheads (e.g. priesthood costs including a hierarchy of bishops versus the costs of a typical non-religious charity). Then there are the hidden social costs to consider (e.g. the unhappy personal relationships fostered by religious dogma and need to control) and the questionable additional costs of infrastructure (e.g. cathedrals).

Even with all that, religions offer succour to many and can also boost 'returns' by backing up cash with volunteers and 'encouraging' junior priests to view anti-social hours as normal.

The answer to the original question seems to me to cry out for an economic study.

As for the new age books, the trips to Lourdes and crystalography - the placebo effect is real. Whether the overheads are defensible when set against alternatives is another economic question.

However, when you talk about causing wars and ignoring real life problems (or throwing up religious hands and saying: 'It is beyond our ken') and undermining our tackling real social problems such as inequality or the - then you're on to something.

" ... maybe the vagrant is being punished for some offense against the gods. Either way, we are excused from needing to do anything." Yes, and not just because the gods put the vagrant where he is but because to interfere would be to interfere inthe gods' plans - who move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform.

Remember Machiavelli

12:53 PM  
Blogger Guz hombre said...

you hold a very narrow and shortsighted view on religion. Only a fraction of people in religions fit under your descriptions of laziness, money wasting and war starting.
as for your example on down syndrome people may believe that it is the will of God, but no where in any major religious text does it say that you should not help them and ignore them instead.
rather ignorant

2:33 AM  

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