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 19 2011: A social construct that is not designed to evolve efficiently in the service of humanity's well being has reach an end to it's usefulness. Static dogmatic religions are archaic technology.

    There is a realm of spirituality that is not nonsense. It is the realm of awe, mystery and the transcendent. It does not conflict with science, but holds a space that is beyond the reach of science. Spirituality, or philosophy if you prefer, is the paradigm of meaning making for the human experience in the face of enormous mystery.

    Humanity has held onto religion for a reason. It's not enough to take religion away. Something new should be offered .
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      Feb 19 2011: There is always room for new religions. They show up daily. Write a book, or books and get people to believe that what they say is the best way to live. Viola! Religion.The fact that so many new ones pop up is a testiment to the fact that they haven't outlived their "usefullness".Usefull to whom, may be the better question and are those uses desirable. In America we have freedom to worship as we please and freedom from the establishment of a national religion. The oppression of any religion is an anathema to our Constitution and Bill of Rights.This whole discussion begs the question of: Isn't it obvious that a lot of folks don't share the goals of some religions or see the value in their practises and what can be done, by our enlightened consensus, to get them to "tone it down". It's elitist, just like "memetic condoms to prevent extremism". Wouldn't we want "good" religions to be extreme? "What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?"

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