Sunday, May 13, 2007

Do we need religion?

Yesterday I listened to a podcast that included an interview of Richard Dawkins. When asked whether religion fulfills a need, he replied that he and most of his friends lived happy, fulfilled lives without any belief in the spiritual. I've got to say, that's pretty smug. To quote Terry Pratchett, "It's hard to believe when you've read a lot of books." As a professor at Oxford, I seriously doubt he's worrying about where his next meal is coming from. He's highly educated, highly intelligent, and is pretty well set up. Not much need for faith in a circumstance like that.

If we play with the idea that there is some sort of "beard or apron in the sky", Jesus' comment about it being harder for a rope to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven rings very true. The caution that the yoga of knowledge is the hardest one with which to reach enlightenment as well. It's a lot easier to find faith when you really feel the need for it, when you are poor, hungry, frightened, oppressed, bewildered...

Even in officially atheist regimes, where religion is stamped out, the religion of the political ideology pops up to take the place of religion. We have a religion shaped hole in our psyches, that gets bigger and more obvious the more uncomfortable our situation. "There are no atheists in a foxhole."

We want explanations. We want existence to make sense, and to have meaning. We want to have faith in a better future for us and our loved ones, even if that future is after we die.

An Oxford professor, and the many other atheists who feel strongly about the need to get rid of religion, have the intellectual capacity, the inclination, and the leisure to come to such a conclusion.

Of all people, Richard Dawkins should understand the role religion plays in the survival of individuals and of the species. Without hope in difficult times, people just give up and die. Those with faith are more likely to survive, because their irrational belief in something better motivates them to continue where the hopeless surrender.

And we've come to the point that we no longer need to adapt to survive. We adapt our environment to ourselves. If you can find an environment in which to put homo sapiens, where belief in religion puts one at a survival disadvantage, and wait a few hundred generations, perhaps we'll get a new subspecies without that religion shaped hole in its psyche.

Mind you, this doesn't even touch upon the possibility of the manipulating the capabilities of body and mind through an engineered choice of belief.

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