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Religion and atheism

While it’s easy to criticise religion as irrational and a vehicle for intolerance, that doesn’t change the fact that there is real value to organised religion.  Mike Haubrich got at one value that people put in religion – the idea of “purchasing” immortality.  But religion also has more tangible value.  A few months ago our pastor, Amy, preached a sermon on “Being Christian as if God didn’t exist”.  She asked the question “what would you do differently?”  The answer was “not an awful lot”.  The value of church as community isn’t dependent on the existence or non-existence of a supernatural being.  The value of service to your (local and global) community exists regardless of whether a supernatural being exits.

Chad Orzel of Uncertainty Principle hits the nail on the head

Trying to get rid of religion by telling believers that their beliefs are stupid is like trying to get rid of fraternities by telling frat boys that the whole enterprise is silly. The smarter ones will shrug and say “Yeah, so?” or invent endless arguments as to why they’re not silly. The less-smart ones will bristle and bluster and tell you to fuck off, and draw into a seige mentality that will make it almost impossible to effect any kind of useful change.

He also gets at a weakness of the atheist movement – that it doesn’t replace the social benefits of religion.

This is the element that I think is missing from the whole atheist project online. Religion exists in large part because it fills a social need for believers, and attacking the silly and objectionable beliefs directly isn’t going to change things. What you need to do is to encourage or create new communities that fill the same social needs without the objectionable beliefs. If you do that, you’ll provide an outlet for people who aren’t entirely happy with their current church, but who don’t see any alternative that provides similar community benefits.


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