TED Conversations

Tim Colgan


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Has religion outlived it's usefulness?

I'd like to start this conversation with a quote from Richard Dawkins:

"Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful!"

The Guardian, October 11, 2001

So my question is - assuming religion ever did serve a useful function for humanity, is it perhaps time that we get beyond religion and develop other tools to provide for human needs?

NOTE: To people making comments - I encourage you to not only give a brief response to the main question but also try to respond to one or more of the other comments. Keeping it brief, respectful and perhaps phrased as a question will help generate a true conversation. Thanks. And come back and visit when you can.


Closing Statement from Tim Colgan

Many thanks to all those who contributed to this discussion. Upon starting this conversation I was concerned that ted wasn't the right place, fearing it would be dominated by a single mind-set. But the diversity of opinions expressed here is amazing. These threads represent a true mosaic of human opinion. Perhaps not a perfect sampling, but a fascinating cross-sample of personal beliefs. The conversations themselves reveal a bit about humanity - filled with sibling rivalries, with moments of compassion. Highly recommended to anyone to take the time to read.

Although it's probably obvious from the conversation's introduction that my intentions included an agenda, that agenda was soon blown out of the water. We had trouble coming to agreement on the definition of religion. Whether it's called religion or not, humans need institutions to provide it's function. To me religion is most symbolized by it's place - temple, mosque, synagogue, church... A place where people gather to share their humanity and ponder the infinite, and their place in it. Perhaps ted is one of those places.

Thanks again to all who contributed. It has been truly enlightening. That's to say, each of you has shone light into some aspect of our topic.

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    Feb 18 2011: I agree with Chelsea that religion has been a tool for exploration or self discovery. Still, I think we have better tools than religion-based thought for that.

    Based on Lauren's comments, I'd say that, yes, religion has provided groups of people with common and meaningful thoughts and/or intentions. But being the object of that belonging to a group, an outer entity (God), it has caused all that exclusion of other groups who don't share those beliefs. I guess that community setting that has been provided by religion should be replaced with one based in an inner quality, the human condition. That same capacity we all have for joy, suffering, brilliance, creativeness, destructiveness, etc.

    It's the same for all that is mentioned as "evil". Religious thought tends to treat evil acts as something inspired by an evil persona that inspires people. What I understand as the drive for "evil" acts is a combination of egoism and ignorance that utterly results in destruction. Whoever acts in those ways it's either because they think it's right or because they think they extract some kind of benefit from it. That perspective should make the thinker aware that whenever they do something considered "evil" he's not helping progress, is doing unnecessary harm which doesn't really benefit him and which actually ultimately harms him also.

    I'm sure we can and will ultimately find some other, better measures to get the same benefits religion has and still delivers, but without the negative collateral effects. Has it already been around longer than it should have? I sure as hell would say yes. But again, I agree that there's no feasible course of action that would get rid of the effects of religion. It must be a natural process.

    I think maybe we'll somewhen all agree on one basic set of values to follow. One that is coherent with respect for life, freedom, equality and that is compatible with scientific thought and progress. But maybe I'm a dreamer.

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