TED Conversations

Tim Colgan


This conversation is closed.

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.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Feb 18 2011: Religion as a tool for self discovery... hmmm.... surrender critical thought and accept the perceptions of others as your own? I find myself through consensus and agreement, an affinity with the perceptions and conclusions of others? I find myself by losing myself in their midst? Philosophy, religion, "personal training": variations of the same theme: I can't do it on my own. The biology of acceptance and acquiring a sense of place in the "community" is a very strong pull. The need to simplify things so that critical thought can be closed is a way to deal with fear. "If you aren't busy being born, you are busy dying."
    • Feb 18 2011: So should one assume you are anti-social. That you've never read a book, watched a movie, left your nice comfy confines.

      I'll assume this is not the case. Just as with each person, your interactions have developed your attitude and lifestyle. Why should your course be more relevant that those who seek assistance from outside influences. While your final sentence is technically correct, not everyone arrives at that conclusion in the same way you did.
      • thumb
        Feb 19 2011: What one might process in the existenstial equation may not be relevant at all. If one is, as you suggest, a mere condensation of data and we are flawed mechanical devices merely responding to stimuli with no real choice then absurdity overcomes purpose. It is not anti-social to ask everyone to consider the "red pill" and develop independent thought. It is possible to assimilate one's experiences criticaly. Am I to be defined by my consumption of my environment? I may be what I eat, but do I have to be what I read, hear, and see? If that is the case, pass the SOMA and save me a seat in front of the television because those who control the media I ingest are destined to control my critical thought. If you aren't making up your own mind, some one else is. Are there no individuals left? Are we all distillations of the cultural input we can't, don't dare, resist? Where do your ideas come from? Is inspiration an elctro-chemical event in our brain prompted by stimuli? Impericists win? You know who someone is and how they think by their education? Hitler studied to be an artist.
        • Feb 20 2011: Then we agree. I'm just not sure how your "real choices" are better than theirs. Further more, who decides what "real choices" are the correct ones? You? Them?

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.