Sunday, December 8, 2013

How should we approach religion?

By guest blogger, Natalie.

We have viewed many different views on religion in the course.  Dawkins made it clear that he believes that faith is the greatest vice, so I suppose he would advocate that religion be abandoned altogether.  Gould offered his solution of non-overlapping magisteria, which I believe a person can respect as an approach without respecting religion at all.  Still, others take any seemingly contradictory claims and explain them away as being apparently contradictory, but not contradictory in reality because of some, often long and complicated, explanation. 

It’s clear that many people are convinced that religion is ridiculous and has no place in a rational world.  As the course ends, what we have covered this semester shows that many religious claims seem unreasonable.  However, at the same time, proving that they are all logically impossible seems as difficult as proving that they are true. 

The question I would like to pose here is:  What is the solution?  How should we approach religion?  I think most answers will build on one of these options: 

1.      Do away with religion.
2.      Reconcile religion with logic/reason/science (though not necessarily accepting religion as true, but only as possible since it has yet to be proven false)
3.      Say some religious concepts are “sui generous”, meaning beyond our understanding, and admit that logic may not be applicable.

Option 1 seems unlikely given the persistence of religion through history.  Option 2 is what Gould attempted to do with NOMA, but this has been met with opposition.  Option 3 may be a copout, and when it is made people pose the “what can we know then?” objection (I’m not yet convinced that it should be discounted so easily.  This slippery slope claim appears to be fearful posturing because people find option 3 incredibly unsatisfying.  Option 3 is not a conclusive answer to the question, but rather, it is an admission that people don’t have the capacity to answer the question.)  Are there 4th, 5th, 6th, and/or more options on which an answer can be built that I haven’t thought of?  What is your answer?  How should we approach religion? 


Michael Dean Hebert said...

If I'm asking myself this question, then I must admit that I'm quite securely in line with Dawkins. I doubt there will be a place for religious adherence in my future.

I think you're more generally asking about how we think society should approach religion. The historical persistence of religious thinking doesn't really mean that we could never be rid of it, but it of course probably will be around for a very long time, if not indefinitely. I think we have to continue to engage with religiously minded people, it's too big a part of so many people's lives not to. What I hope this engagement amounts to is a more secure understanding of how we formulate beliefs about the way the world is, and which methods of belief formulation are better than others. Ultimately I'd like to see the elimination of faith-based thinking, which is where I really take issue with religious thinking. If that leads to doing away with religion (as I believe it will), then I'm fine with it. If religion can sustain itself without faith, then I'd be intrigued by such a turn of events.

I suppose this puts me under your first approach, but I think it's an odd way to put it. I don't think I'm advocating for simply "doing away with religion." Rather, I'm engaging with people who might be in line with options 2 or 3 and trying to draw out which lines of their reasoning are to be respected, and which ones are not. Where reasoning/belief relies on faith (religious or otherwise) I think society should shun the conclusions.

Natalie N said...

I was interested because people in class frequently concluded that religion is irrational. I believe it was the Pojman reading that said that ideas aren't irrational, but rather, the people who have them are. Some kind of discourse between religious people and people who think that religion is irrational is inevitable. How can someone have rational discourse with someone he or she has already discounted as being irrational/having irrational beliefs? It seems like those who believe that religion is irrational have to develop a way to have a rational conversation with them despite this inability to come to a meeting of the minds on this matter. I think option 3 is appealing because we can just avoid dealing with it, but I don’t think it’s actually a solution. Option 1 is something I wouldn’t even know how to begin without mind swipes or carrying out plans that would probably be classified as genocide, which has left me leaning towards option 2. What I imagine when I conceptualize option 2 is a likening of religion to a call made by a referee during a football game that is being contested. The religious believer is the referee and religious belief is the call that they have made. When a contestation is made in football, if there is no incontrovertible evidence that the referee was wrong, then the play stands. We can still think that the call was wrong or that the referee has no idea what he’s doing, but it doesn’t matter. That call is what it is at that point because it can’t be proved wrong like religion is what it is at this point because it can’t be proved wrong. Not everyone believes it, but that doesn’t mean that those who do are necessarily irrational. At this time, there is no incontrovertible evidence that religion is wrong, so I don’t think people with religious beliefs should be discounted. It must be accepted that those beliefs are had, and go on from that point. It’s not necessarily a direct parallel, because the football game goes on as if the call made was true while I am not suggesting that we have to accept as true anything that can’t be proven wrong. My first instinct was to say that the public sphere should then operate based only on what can be proven true, but I had to renege and reconsider when I realized the problem that morals and ethics might not be something that can be proven true. I think Professor Steinberg might have said he’s working on a paper related to that, so maybe there’s hope still. I’m still trying to develop possibilities and figure out what to think, hence why I’m posing the question here.

David Harms said...

For me, after going into this class aligning myself with option 2, I have found myself slowly moving towards option 3. I am not confident that many people will lean in this direction, for I think the arguments against religion are stronger than the arguments for. I would guess that more individuals would lobby for option 1 after the arguments read. Religious behavior doesn't seem irrational to me, for it provides a lot of fulfillment for people. However, the broad scope ideology and faith required to consider oneself not only spiritual but a believer in all that a major religion has to offer begins to intimidate people and push them to rationally believe otherwise. Although option 1 will most likely be favor and option 3 is a copout of sorts, I would hope option 2 is still pursued. Other options seem difficult to fathom at this point, for it seems they would all be a slight variation on option 2.

Alexander Laird said...

I don't agree that option #1 seems unlikely. Religious belief has persisted for millennia, yes, but that certainly is not proof that it will exist with any measure of popularity in the moderately distant future. Recent trends have shown that religion is decreasing in popularity as nations become more developed. The article mentioned in the previous blog post shows some of these findings. I think that religion is prevalent because it serves as wonderful psychological/emotional support for people who need it. However, as people become more educated and less affected by factors that they can't explain or feel that they have no control over, this need for religious support will diminish. In addition, as religion will likely gain an increasingly unattractive stigma over time, similar beliefs or activities which serve the same supportive psychological puruposes will serve as substitutes. These are things like conspiracy theories, secular ritualistic behavior, and membership to organizations where one can feel a greater sense of belonging.