PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Friday, April 28, 2017

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Are religions a need?

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Are religions a need?

We have discussed many issues and questions on religion in the past so
I'll give the links at the end of this short essay.

Before we can answer whether religion are a need, there is an equally
good question that is: why do we have religions in the first place? And
since both questions are purely empirical questions, we have to tease
out the reasons why religions (religion) ought to be a concern for
philosophy. The fist and obvious answer is that religions are a type of
beliefs and behaviour that affects many human beings on the planet.
Secondly, most human activities are legitimate philosophical subjects.

Having said that, philosophy cannot establish the truth value of
religion type statements, even if these statements are couches as if
they were statements of fact. Indeed all statements of fact are subject
to a veracity test. However, although it is not the function of
philosophy to prove the existence of a god, it is the function of
philosophy to establish whether any statements purporting to be true or
false about a god are valid statements. That is establish which
religious statements reflect philosophical rigour.

Statements of fact necessarily depend on some methodology that satisfies
human reasoning. The problem here is that any methodology used to
establish statements of facts must be formulated in a way humans can
access and understand the information thus generated. Moreover such a
methodology is accessible to anyone who wants to learn the ways of the
methodology. Methodology, and hence religious methodology, is indeed a
valid philosophical subject we can investigate. But even if there is
nothing wrong with the methodology this does not mean that we can claim
to have found a truth value for religious statements of fact.

And even more important, just because religious methodology is sound it
does not fallow that any religious statement of belief, fact or
prescription is also good for us. After all, many hard and addictive
drugs are made with sound and scientifically rigorous methods but it
does not follow that hard drugs are good for us. But even if we cannot
decide what is good and bad, we can still establish whether something,
as in our case religion, is needed and whether it is also useful.

We can therefore interpret need to mean a hard-need, something we just
cannot do without, in the sense that we need water to survive, or we can
interpret need to mean a soft-need for example something to help us
along with life such as entertaining ourselves over the weekend is a
need we all long for during the week. And even useful, needs further

Is it a necessary condition for humans (live humans that is) to have a
religion? Or is religion useful in the sense that we can achieve more in
life if we had one and if we didn't have religion life would be more
difficult? But before we can arrive to this question we have to further
clarify what is religion here. In common use language religion can mean:
theology, religious behaviour/moral behaviour, and cultural norms.

For want of a better definition, theology is the body of belief that
tries to validate religious type statements of fact. For example
theology answers such questions as "does god exist?" or "what is a holy
life?" This is also the main source of religious methodology and
therefore a matter for philosophy. However, religious behaviour is
different from verifying religious statements of fact. It seems, at face
value, that Theology is the justifying source to prescribe certain
behaviour which we would qualify as morally good: help the poor; do not
worship false gods, etc etc. Indeed, "what is a holy life?" is first and
foremost a behavioural prescriptive question, for example: do x to be
holy or good.

The problem is that religions tend to justify prescriptive behaviour,
but they don't demonstrate that religions are needed or useful. Indeed
we are all familiar with the various scientific studies that try to show
people do benefit from observing some religion; there are many issues of
methodology and data with these studies. Of course, these studies do not
verify whether God exists nor whether religions are necessary. After
all, studies about the Mediterranean diet also demonstrate that it is
useful and probably necessary for a healthy life; ,or that a well
nourished stable family is also necessary for children to grow into
stable adults.

We also know that historically there was no clear cut distinction
between religion and the state, or religion and culture. It is,
therefore, not surprising that in the 21st century we still find many
societies and countries where religion plays a central role in the life
of people; and in many cases religion is forced on people rather than an
act of free will and free choice.

At the practical level, some people need religion because religions are
very good at providing some readymade beliefs to deal with issues of
life and death and our existence. Religions also have one advantage over
psychology and psychiatry: religions do not have the sigma and taboo of
mental instability. Indeed, religions have the added bonus of being
spiritually pious; a visit to the psychiatrist is evidence of something
wrong with the person. In other words, god as a methodological
justification for behaviour is much simpler to understand than some P
value in some academic paper.

But because religions are based on simple and captivating beliefs they
are also susceptible to misuse and abuse; the simplicity of religion is
also their vulnerability. No doubt this can explain why many politicians
are so keen on religion.

At one level, religions have been around for so long that it would be
difficult to imagine humanity without religion. We accept religions even
though religions are basically incapable of fixing a tooth ache or a
bleeding finger. And yet recent attempts to use non religious statements
of facts to improve the psychological and material welfare humans have
not exactly been a roaring success.

One of the most recent efforts of non religious set of beliefs to
improve our lot has been the teaching of Karl Marx and communism but
this ideology has failed miserably for the same reason that religions
have failed miserably: it is based on a promise and not on factual
delivery. Communism has also been abused and misused. Even if we take
the above example of the Mediterranean diet, which is supposed to be
very good for us (the Japanese diet is much better), how come there
aren't any jihadists demanding that governments make Mediterranean diet
food available for free in the supermarkets? Being good, it seems is not
enough to motivate action, being simple to understand is more suitable
for action.

To borrow an idea from sales, if you make it people will buy it, so if
we have a religion people will want to follow it and, therefore, will
need it. So some people do need religion because it is readily available
like tins of baked beans are readily available. Others will need
something else, for example immersing themselves in the writings of Kant
or Hume. But what these bodies of beliefs have in common is that they
are the product of a human mind that's fatally infected by one of the
deadliest diseases know to humans: language. Most problems in philosophy
are indeed language problems, and hence most problems in life are also
problems of language, religions are one of them, religions won't exist
without language. And nor would a Mediterranean diet exist without the
exotic nature of the language used; a balanced diet is no doubt the best
there is, but it's not simple enough, the language is not emotional enough.

Best Lawrence

Do Religions help people?

Religion and Education

Religion free society

Symbolism in Religion [symbols in religion]

Why are religions obsessed with s€x?.

Why are religions so successful?

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813

PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
Thursdays at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Are religions a need?

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