Why Does Religion Persist?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explores the question:

We must ask ourselves why this is, because it is actually very odd indeed. Think about it: every function that was once performed by religion can now be done by something else. In other words, if you want to explain the world, you don’t need Genesis; you have science. If you want to control the world, you don’t need prayer; you have technology. If you want to prosper, you don’t necessarily seek God’s blessing; you have the global economy. You want to control power, you no longer need prophets; you have liberal democracy and elections.

If you’re ill, you don’t need a priest; you can go to a doctor. If you feel guilty, you don’t have to confess; you can go to a psychotherapist instead. If you’re depressed, you don’t need faith; you can take a pill. If you still need salvation, you can go to today’s cathedrals, the shopping centres of Britain — or as one American writer calls them, weapons of mass consumption. Religion seems superfluous, redundant, de trop. Why then does it survive?

My answer is simple. Religion survives because it answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? We will always ask those three questions because homo sapiens is the meaning-seeking animal, and religion has always been our greatest heritage of meaning. You can take science, technology, the liberal democratic state and the market economy as four institutions that characterise modernity, but none of these four will give you an answer to those questions that humans ask.

If religion only existed to answer those questions, it wouldn’t be so bad. It’s the people who believe their faith answers things beyond the unknown who are the problem. (Why am I here? may not even be a question worth asking, since it implies there’s a purpose to your existence… and therefore, a god who gave you that purpose.)

(via The Daily Dish)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=23430830 Matthew Shepherd

    Why am I here?

    Because my parents did things and produced me.

    What a deep question.

    • Anonymous

      My parents were horny. I figured that out when I was about five.

      • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

        Lucky for you.

  • Jim Valentine

    Religion persists because not everyone is reflective.  Not everyone knows or cares that if you get sick that you should go to the doctor, they want the easy way out and pray instead.  It is a psychological issue more than it is a philosophical one.

  • JimG

    Religion might not be THAT bad if it only existed to answer those questions, but that still wouldn’t make it good – certainly not as good as reality-based philosophy; for even if answering existential questions was its only function, those answers would still be pulled from thin air, often to justify someone’s unjustly-held power; and any rationale given to back up those religious assertions was developed subsequently by ignoring any inconveniently contrary facts. In short, a guide based in fancy may well be less helpful than no guide at all.

  • Rod Chlebek

    The proper way to evaluate claims is rarely discussed. Ask students to define “logic”. Most of them will probably say “makes sense”.

  • http://twitter.com/baralong Doug Paice

    I think he missed a key point as to why religion persists: community/identity. 

    A group of people all get together regularly, united in a belief. The group reinforces that identity, telling them that those out of the group are wrong/bad and those in are right/good.  This community then provides a social group that fills other needs.

    I have, at times, looked at my religious friends and family and their church communities with a little envy; not for their beliefs but the positive support and sense of belonging that they get. If it weren’t for the fact that I consider the core of what brings them together to be fundamentally false then I might consider it. (there’s also some of the “morals” they tend to teach I find abhorrent, but anyway)

    • Erp

      Religious communities can provide necessary support in times of need (e.g., ill, someone from the church brings round meals), and, networked communities can provide useful intros (e.g., a Mormon with a temple recommend moves to a new area and his new ward probably has someone who can point him to job opportunities, a place to live, etc.).  For immigrants, their church/synagogue/mosque/temple acts as a cultural center (and unlike a secular cultural center probably has several tax advantages).  The support in times of need is probably less essential if the state provides a lot of the support (hence, I  suspect, the decline in religion in Norway, Sweden, Britain, etc.). 

  • NewEnglandBob

    Religion does NOT even come close to answering those three questions and never has, nor will it ever. Religion is nothing but reaction to fear, attempts to control others and irrational wishful thinking instead of actual thinking.

  • Cutencrunchy

    Religion is living for the lazy bread and buttered in America. All those things can be found elsewhere but with religion it’s all in one simple package no need to shop around  it’s the fast food of answers and salvation in one place – it’s a one stop shop and all your thinking can be done for you but wait there’s more…

  • Amanda

    Religion still exists because of a question, but not those questions. The question is what happens when I die? And since that is also the one question science will never be able to prove, religion will get to stay in business.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chriswarr78 Chris Warren

    I believe that religion persists (in a free society) because the majority of religious believers are genuinely unconcerned about what is real and true. It’s true that community, conformity, hope for an afterlife, and perhaps fear are motivators. The fact is, at the end of the day, most people would prefer to face eternity wearing blinders. Why think when you can know. Why prove, when you can simply believe. Intellectual honesty is not worth the price of living and dying without an emotional security blanket. I can empathise with their plight, but I cannot understand not wanting to know. I certainly cannot forgive the harm that wilful ignorance causes.

  • Gprano

    It looks like a too-simple explanation for me. Come on, these are stories that may (i don’t think they do in all religions) answers some existentials questions. But they are not good explanations in any sense that you would normally give to it : they explain mysteries by creating dozens of others, and use completely wtf and not needed details (born out of a virgin huh ? why is that necessary to explain the meaning of life ?).

    No, the answers needs to be more complex. Reading Pascal Boyer’s “Et l’homme créa les dieux” (don’t know the title in english) can give some hints on that topic.

    • Eleanor O’Neill

      Literal (maybe not correct) translation: “And man created (the) gods”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1601680373 Kent Gordon Schlorff

    The end of the article was kind of a punch to the gut. I DO have a purpose; it’s just self-defined purpose. Of course there’s no over-arching Grand Purpose over everything, but as intelligent beings we have the faculties to chart our own courses and define our purpose(s) in the here and now.

  • Andrew B.

    Religion does indeed answer those questions, but so what?  Why is it enough to answer a question?  Shouldn’t it matter that the answer actually is correct or reasonable?  How can we be sure the answers religion provides for those questions are actually accurate?  What reason is there to think that religion answers these questions more sensibly than self-reflection or self-discovery?

    Come to think of it, those three questions the Rabbi mentioned are the three questions religion CANNOT answer with any truth.  Only individuals can provide the correct answers for themselves.  You are whoever you think you are, you’re here for whatever reason you feel you are and you live as you feel you ought to live.  Religion can call me whatever it wishes, but I don’t have to care.  It means nothing to me to be called a goyim, kuffar or a sinner.  Those are meaningless words.  They don’t matter.

    I’m sorry for sounding so defiant, but I’m just tired of religious authorities insisting on the necessity or essential nature of their religions.  Sacks was on a roll when he claimed that religions functions had largely been replaced with science, medicine, etc.  Too bad he didn’t round out the list of usurpers with ethics and philosophy.  If you add those, religion ends up being as useful as astrology.

    • Dan W

      This, so very much.

  • Anonymous
  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Religion survives because it answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?

    Deeply reflective people are not satisfied with the simplistic, children’s story-level answers that religion offers to those questions. There are many people who ask those questions shallowly, and they are easily made content by appealing to their desire to remain children.

    Adults are not interested in store-bought meaning. Adults are willing to do the hard work, and willing to take full responsibility for making their own decisions about what their life will be about, and creating their own meaning. They might or might not fully achieve what they chose to do , but adults do not give credit or blame to an outside authority.

    The main reason that religion persists is the power of childhood indoctrination. The earlier an idea goes into a child’s mind, the harder it is for him or her to ever extract it. Religion creates a self-perpetuating child-like mind, that, like Peter Pan, protects itself from growing up, and will always prefer shallow answers to deep questions.

    If people were only introduced to religion when they were old enough to have a gatekeeper in their minds, when they could reason out and consciously make choices about what is being proposed, then far, far fewer people would accept those propositions, and religion would gradually go extinct.

    • NorDog

      Theologians like Thomas Aquinas will be surprised to learn that they were neither deeply reflective nor adult.

      Really, Richard, just because there is so much dreck offered up in the name of religion, it doesn’t follow that there aren’t deeply recflective individuals struggling with those questions (and other questions).

      Besides, I reject the writer’s contention that religion persists simply for the answers to the questions he lists.

      I persists for some because they are deeply reflective adults and are convinced that there is a God.

      Discounting them as shallow children may have a certian rhetorical utility in demeaning believers, but it won’t change the fact that your description is painted with far too broad a brush.

      • NorDog

        The penultimate paragraph in my post above should have started, “IT persiststs…” etc.

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        My remark was not intended to say that all believers are shallow, or that no believers are deep. I think  your interpretation of my words might be too broad. Nevertheless, I apologize for not qualifying more clearly.

        Some are shallow, some are deep, but I still assert that the major cause for most believer’s persistence in adhering to religion is in the power of their childhood indoctrination, and in the selective and compartmentalized immaturity that it perpetuates. 

        I view people in terms of a spectrum of maturity, and most people’s minds are inconsistent, uneven in their levels of maturity, myself included.  This accounts for how we can respond with great sophistication and wisdom to some aspects of life, yet remain stuck in Never Never Land in response to other aspects of life.

      • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

        Discounting them as shallow children may have a certian rhetorical utility in demeaning believers, but it won’t change the fact that your description is painted with far too broad a brush.

        I don’t think it persists because they are shallow children. I think it persists because of what they were taught as children. The fact is that all of us who are raised in the United States are exposed to a god-saturated culture that assumes the existence of the supernatural, even those of us who weren’t indoctrinated. But most children are indoctrinated. Most children are told things like: “God is real,” “People go to heaven when they die,” and “Jesus loves you.” Those are presented to them as facts, not opinions.

        Whatever reflection they do comes years, even decades, after the god-concept was first inserted into their trusting, accepting, non-critical toddler brains. The child was told to assume a supernatural realm, the child was told a god was real, the child was taught how to pray. It’s not exactly surprising that the child continues to believe such things as an adult. It’s also not surprising that the more reflective among them, the deep thinkers, will go to extreme lengths to support what they already believe.

  • http://twitter.com/aweiser278 Tania R Guimaraes

    Religion gives the faithful a false sense that he/she has an asnwer for what, in reality has no definite answer.  People of rational minds know that the question is infinite.  As an atheist i always ask:  What brought together gazes for the big bang?  What was before the big bang?  I can go as far as I want and a question remains as to what came bofore that.  i arrive where there is not an answer and decided that i can live without it.  Those of religion sort of get in the same place, except they can’t live without God.  You can’t ever ask them who created God.  They arrive at the same place:  There is no answer.  In a way they know it.  Tey will tell you. No one created God for God is the creator.  To me it does not make any sense, but to them it does.  from my perspective it is a false sense of security in having an answer.  I rather live with the insecurity of not having an answer and know for myself that it is okay not to have complete answers.  To me life is about asking quastions, take ot as far as you can and then be okay with not being able to go farther
     

    • msl

      The most creative answer I have ever heard was, “God willed himself into being.”

  • http://www.phoenixgarage.org/ cr0sh

    Actually, all three of these questions, including the one referenced by Amanda upthread, have been answered by science as well – it’s just a significant fraction of the population is too afraid to accept the implications:

    1. Who am I?

    You are the sum total of your past experiences, a grand and complicated interconnected network of self-learning neuronal nodes; a pattern that changes over time – you are never the same “you” from one moment to the next. Be amazed and revel in this knowledge.

    2. Why am I here?

    Evolution acting on self-replicating molecular machinery; the most likely beginning of which was due to simple self-replicating molecules that arose from random interactions over billions of years, but constrained by the natural laws and forces which govern atoms (given the amount of time and space we are talking about, statistically the rise of this first replicator it had to occur somewhere, sometime). That is one of the theories, at least.

    3. How then shall I live?

    Rationally, tempered by compassion and empathy for yourself and others.
    4. What happens when I die?

    The information which makes you “you” ultimately ceases to exist, as entropy takes over. Without the computational neural substrate of the mind, the software that is you (in the form of the interconnections, via chemical and electrical potentials) ceases to “run”. You cease to be you. That is our honest understanding of brain death.

    • Mr Z

      I agree with all of this except.. (and you knew that was coming, right?)

      The part about how then shall I live? However you want to live. Let no other tell you how it should be. If you choose to be a murdering thief then know the consequences of that life.  Just the same, act in the manners which you find comfortable. It is silly for any of us to tell you to not misbehave for you will choose to misbehave with or without our permission. It behooves you to know hat there are consequences if you do not behave as the local tribe deems necessary. If you should choose to act in manners which are not centrist, it is your choice. It is also not anyone else’s place to tell you how to live unless your choices impinge the rights of others. You want pink hair, have at it. You like same sex relations, have at it. You like rough sex, have at it. You like geek things, have at it. You like harming others? Someone will harm you back. The law of reciprocity remains in effect.

      That whole bit about compassion and empathy? ROFLMFAO who in the hell told you that we have to have empathy? Next thing you know you’ll be telling us we need to be heterosexual. Take your thought policing and shove it.

      I will do as I damned well please. That is what life demands of me. When it benefits me to be empathetic, I will be. When it does not, I will not be. Are you worried about starving children right now? No? Guess it doesn’t benefit you to be empathetic to all things all the time now does it. Of course that didn’t stop you from telling others how to behave. Nicely done!

      • James g

        Bit of an overreaction to an innocuous comment. Firstly, the comment says “How then shall I live? ” The commenter made no claim that you should also live your life this way. And you have no way of knowing what the commenter does for a living, so assuming he doesn’t care about starving children is pretty presumptous.

      • http://www.phoenixgarage.org/ cr0sh

        It’s a pity that you don’t understand empathy, but unfortunately, not everyone does. Perhaps one day you will – or not. So be it.

        How you went from my comment to thinking that I intend to ban or tell people how to live their life, I don’t know. I do believe that we owe each other the decency of kindness and caring; that we as a species should strive together to make the world a better place.

        Maybe part of it is the ethos of LNT – Leave No Trace – that I gained from my first experience in preparing for, journeying too, and participating in my first Burn. I’m not so naive as to think that our species can truly “Leave No Trace”, but we can do what we can, and at least try to leave things better than when we came.

        Why? Not for securing a better place for ourselves after we die, of course, but because it really is the morally right thing to do for those who come after us. I am sorry that you don’t see things this way. I would never insist that you must, but I would hope I could persuade you at least.

        If not, then we can agree to disagree.

        • Mr Z

           The sentiments expressed at the end of your post are not in conflict with how I think. Who said I don’t understand empathy? You know nothing of me but one post. The idea that you would tell someone to live with compassion and empathy falls flat when you consider that more than half of the people on this planet currently have little else to give themselves or anyone else. Telling people they should live this way or that is fruitless. Showing them? Now that is a different matter. Telling believers to live rationally with compassion and empathy is fruitless. They have neither and rightly so as their faith demands that they not give it at all to some and only in small measure to others.

          The raw facts are that you will live as you personally see fit to live. There will be constraints and societal pressures and somewhere in the middle you’ll find something you’re happy with, for most people. Still, it will be your choice how to live your life. Not one person can tell you how to live it. You, on the other hand, can choose to listen to any and all ideas about how to live and make your own choice.

          It is not my place to tell anyone how to live. Doing so amounts to saying my way is right above all others. It’s not my place to do that. This has nothing to do with empathy or understanding it per se. In my understanding of the world, I can neither tell people they are living wrong nor living right. I cannot suggest this one way is good without suggesting that the other way is wrong.

          Any state of being for humans is simply one point on a large scale of possible states. Please tell an autistic person that they must live with compassion and empathy. Any explanation for how things should be for humans must include the best of us and the least of us or it is not a workable idea. So, if it piques your curiosity, consider again why all of us should live with compassion and empathy.

          Before you say wait, that’s a special case, let me counter by again saying that any workable idea for the human condition must be workable for the whole spectrum, from the best of us to the least of us. If you choose to consider that autistic people are somehow broken, then you must also consider that others may be broken but in less debilitating ways. If they are broken, how then does your advice work? Does it not apply to them? If not, how do we determine who is broken and who is not?

          That’s how I see things.

  • Jonah Horowitz

    Religion persists for a variety of reasons, many of which boil down to the fact that people give far too much weight to tradition.

    • Pseudonym

      Joseph Campbell’s analysis  was that religion confuses metaphor with reality.

  • Ida Know

    Religion persists for all the reasons given by the commenters above, plus this: It is politically useful to those whose continued power depends on an ignorant and complacent population.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    “Why am I here?” may not be a question about what purpose you’ve been given, but rather a question you ask yourself about the purpose you are seeking in life. Your own purpose. And what you want that to be.

  • Alan M

    This all misses the point. 

    A vast number of people still don’t understand the science, have limited access to the economy, and have limited access to healthcare.  In Europe, in which people have the most of all these things, religion *is* dwindling away to nothing.

    The answer to the question is: when people actually have all the things described, religion will be a minority pursuit.

  • Anonymous

    Religion survives because it answers three questions that every
    reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I
    live?

    Religion answers those questions, but there is nothing to suggest there is any value or credibility to those answers.

    In fact, if we take the record of religions as any indication, it is exceedingly likely that religion will get those questions wrong. The rabbi mentions that we don’t need religion to explain the world, to control the world, or to cure us. Why do we not need religion for that? Oh yeah, because the explanations of religion for such things have been shown to be absolutely wrong on every count.

    Try to imagine that. Take every religion’s explanation for the origin of the universe, or where disease comes from and how to cure it, or it’s assurances of good results depending on certain spells prayers, sacrifices etc. and put it up against a 100% failure rate. Any other human phenomenon shown to fail so consistently would be dropped instantly, and it most certainly wouldn’t be trusted to give answers to other questions.

    Now, I don’t think there will neccesarily be perfect answers to those questions. It’s entirely possible that the questions themselves are flawed. However, I’d rather come at those questions using a method that has consistently given humanity good results (rationalism, skepticism etc.) than with one which fails so often, like religion. I think that there can be value in the idea that we should mistrust certainty in the answers to those questions, that we should constantly be putting the answers under scrutiny to make sure they add up. Nothing is worse for that than a philosophy which elevates belief without evidence to a virtue.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

      Fine comment. (Why in triplicate? Everything OK?)

      • Anonymous

        Quintuplicate, by my count ¬¬
         What happened was that Disqus, as usual, messed up the whole copy-paste thing, so I went in to edit it. I had to do this several times since you don’t always catch all the breaks on the first go. Disqus decided to be more insufferable than usual by registering each one of my edits as a new comment. I’ve mailed Hemant about it, hopefully the copies will disappear soon.

  • Anonymous

    Religion survives because it answers three questions that every
    reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I
    live?

    Religion answers those questions, but there is nothing to suggest there is any value or credibility to those answers.

    In fact, if we take the record of religions as any indication, it is exceedingly likely that religion will get those questions wrong. The rabbi mentions that we don’t need religion to explain the world, to control the world, or to cure us. Why do we not need religion for that? Oh yeah, because the explanations of religion for such things have been shown to be absolutely wrong on every count.

    Try to imagine that. Take every religion’s explanation for the origin of the universe, or where disease comes from and how to cure it, or it’s assurances of good results depending on certain spells prayers, sacrifices etc. and put it up against a 100% failure rate. Any other human phenomenon shown to fail so consistently would be dropped instantly, and it most certainly wouldn’t be trusted to give answers to other questions.

    Now, I don’t think there will neccesarily be perfect answers to those questions. It’s entirely possible that the questions themselves are flawed. However, I’d rather come at those questions using a method that has consistently given humanity good results (rationalism, skepticism etc.) than with one which fails so often, like religion. I think that there can be value in the idea that we should mistrust certainty in the answers to those questions, that we should constantly be putting the answers under scrutiny to make sure they add up. Nothing is worse for that than a philosophy which elevates belief without evidence to a virtue.

  • Anonymous

    Religion survives because it answers three questions that every
    reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I
    live?

    Religion answers those questions, but there is nothing to suggest there is any value or credibility to those answers.

    In fact, if we take the record of religions as any indication, it is
    exceedingly likely that religion will get those questions wrong. The
    rabbi mentions that we don’t need religion to explain the world, to
    control the world, or to cure us. Why do we not need religion for that?
    Oh yeah, because the explanations of religion for such things have been
    shown to be absolutely wrong on every count.

    Try to imagine that. Take every religion’s explanation for the origin of
    the universe, or where disease comes from and how to cure it, or it’s
    assurances of good results depending on certain
    spells prayers, sacrifices etc. and put it
    up against a 100% failure rate. Any other human phenomenon shown to fail
    so consistently would be dropped instantly, and it most certainly
    wouldn’t be trusted to give answers to other questions.

    Now, I don’t think there will neccesarily be perfect answers to those
    questions. It’s entirely possible that the questions themselves are
    flawed. However, I’d rather come at those questions using a method that
    has consistently given humanity good results (rationalism, skepticism
    etc.) than with one which fails so often, like religion. I think that
    there can be value in the idea that we should mistrust certainty in the
    answers to those questions, that we should constantly be putting the
    answers under scrutiny to make sure they add up. Nothing is worse for
    that than a philosophy which elevates belief without evidence to a
    virtue.

  • Anonymous

    Religion survives because it answers three questions that every
    reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I
    live?

    Religion answers those questions, but there is nothing to suggest there is any value or credibility to those answers.

    In fact, if we take the record of religions as any indication, it is
    exceedingly likely that religion will get those questions wrong. The
    rabbi mentions that we don’t need religion to explain the world, to
    control the world, or to cure us. Why do we not need religion for that?
    Oh yeah, because the explanations of religion for such things have been
    shown to be absolutely wrong on every count.

    Try to imagine that. Take every religion’s explanation for the origin of
    the universe, or where disease comes from and how to cure it, or it’s
    assurances of good results depending on certain
    spells prayers, sacrifices etc. and put it
    up against a 100% failure rate. Any other human phenomenon shown to fail
    so consistently would be dropped instantly, and it most certainly
    wouldn’t be trusted to give answers to other questions.

    Now, I don’t think there will neccesarily be perfect answers to those
    questions. It’s entirely possible that the questions themselves are
    flawed. However, I’d rather come at those questions using a method that
    has consistently given humanity good results (rationalism, skepticism
    etc.) than with one which fails so often, like religion. I think that
    there can be value in the idea that we should mistrust certainty in the
    answers to those questions, that we should constantly be putting the
    answers under scrutiny to make sure they add up. Nothing is worse for
    that than a philosophy which elevates belief without evidence to a
    virtue.

  • Anonymous

    Religion survives because it answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?

    Religion answers those questions, but there is nothing to suggest there is any value or credibility to those answers.

    In fact, if we take the record of religions as any indication, it is exceedingly likely that religion will get those questions wrong. The rabbi mentions that we don’t need religion to explain the world, to control the world, or to cure us. Why do we not need religion for that? Oh yeah, because the explanations of religion for such things have been shown to be absolutely wrong on every count.

    Try to imagine that. Take every religion’s explanation for the origin of the universe, or where disease comes from and how to cure it, or it’s assurances of good results depending on certain spells prayers, sacrifices etc. and put it
    up against a 100% failure rate. Any other human phenomenon shown to fail so consistently would be dropped instantly, and it most certainly wouldn’t be trusted to give answers to other questions.

    Now, I don’t think there will neccesarily be perfect answers to those questions. It’s entirely possible that the questions themselves are flawed. However, I’d rather come at those questions using a method that has consistently given humanity good results (rationalism, skepticism etc.) than with one which fails so often, like religion. I think that
    there can be value in the idea that we should mistrust certainty in the answers to those questions, that we should constantly be putting the answers under scrutiny to make sure they add up. Nothing is worse for that than a philosophy which elevates belief without evidence to a virtue.

  • Anonymous

    Somehow, people don’t like the idea of a meaningless universe, so they find meaning in any way they can.  Also, it doesn’t help if you’ve been brought up in religion.

  • TiltedHorizon

    “Religion survives because it answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. ”

    I guess I’m not a ‘reflective’ person as I don’t understand why I ‘must’ ask such questions. I have a full time and often intrusive career, a self sustaining ‘honey-do’ list,  a five year old who considers me his best friend, and all the other obligations one owns when life is centered around family. Had I the time to waste on such pondering I’d likely go cruising on my motorcycle or continue my search for elusive trophy bass. I guess my life would have to be idle to appreciate religion, I prefer to ‘do’ instead.

    • Anonymous

      My sentiments, exactly. I don’t have time to search for the “meaning of life” because I’m too busy living it.

  • Kullervo

    Actually, those last three questions are the purview of philosophy, and have been well-secularized by it since the Greeks.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ORRVVC5R2QWLTXEM6SX5L6BORE Jay Arrrr

    Religion provides justification for one’s petty prejudices and dislikes. How many of us have been confronted with some of the most vile racist, homophobic, anti-whatever crap ever uttered only to be told “Don’t get pissed at ME, GAWD seddit, get pissed at GAWD!”

    Yep, handy stuff, that Religion. Whatever you hate, be it Teh Ghey, women, people of different colours, Science, Liberals,  the Poor, dancing, sex for pleasure, Medicine, whatever, there’s a verse in the Big Book of Bronze Age Faerie Tales that tells you you’re right.

    • Nordog

      Well, not everything whatsoever.  Wholesale bigotry against all religion requires one to look elsewhere, say, atheism as understood by Jay Arrrr.

      • JimG

        By your definition of bigotry, Nordog, I suspect you could be accused of bigotry against sticking your arm in a bear trap. It’s a nonsensical claim that serves only to allow you to play the victim.

  • Salty

    Philosophy meets my needs for exploring meaning just fine.   Educate everyone, I say!!!

  • Former Thumper

    it seems like the essayist hasn’t heard of philosophy.

  • Elizabeth

    You forgot that people use religon so they do not have to feel like life ends when you die. Watch the documentary “Flight From Death: Quest for Immortality”. It shows a bunch of experiments done to prove the idea that we use religion to accept our mortality and it does a damn good job.

  • Newavocation

    In Ingersoll’s words, “Love was the first to dream of immortality, — not Religion, not Revelation. We love, therefore we wish to live. The hope of immortality is the great oak ’round which have climbed the poisonous vines of superstition. The vines have not supported the oak, the oak has supported the vines. As long as men live and love and die, this hope will blossom in the human heart.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Sweet/1280927267 James Sweet

    Moreover, there are other ways to answer those questions as well.

    Religion persists because some of the functions of religion which the rabbi rightly recognizes as having been supplanted were supplanted only very recently.  I don’t expect religion to die out completely, but given some time, secularism will take over and religion will become a minor force — and the rabbi has stated exactly why, except he’s just being impatient.

  • Nude0007

    Religion survives because people don’t examine why they believe it. It has been handed down so long that the validity of it is not even considered.  It is designed to discourage questioning (one of the negatives about it) so it never occurs to people to even think it might be bad, wrong, whatever.
    While it does give a sense of community, I think it is more like the community uses it for an outlet, an excuse to commune.  It could easily be gotten rid of and replaced, but people do not think about getting rid of it.  The excuse that it will always exist because it provides a necessary sense of community is not correct. The need for community exists in us all and there are many cultures that have such community and not from their religion.  I will be so happy when most people finally do realize that the religion part ISN’T NECESSARY!

  • Jane Rakali

    In my experience religion persists because its adherents are coerced into holding a belief system when they are either young or vulnerable. It’s all about emotional abuse and attachments. Nothing more. 

  • http://www.martinprest.com/ Martin Prest

    It’s true; it’s all about answers.  Why then do religious people so often seem they least will to find the right answers? 

    They say: ‘That’s why it’s called faith’ as if we should have no answer for that.  Well, sorry, but we can. 

    http://www.openalc.com/2012/01/20/how-do-you-answer-thats-why-its-called-faith/

    Martin Prest


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