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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    Mar 4 2011: On ancient texts.

    In other threads we have touched on the topic of Holy or Sacred Texts. Hopefully we can delve into this topic a little more deeply.

    I've always been a fan of literature. In the last 40 years of my life there has never been a point when I wasn't in the midst of reading a book. All literature has something to teach us.

    Can we say that any text that has been around for long enough time and served as a foundation for a society's belief-system probably has something to teach us and should be elevated in some sense?

    Is it necessary to elevate it beyond this by saying it has some additional metaphysical property as if it had been sprinkled with magic pixie dust?
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      • Mar 5 2011: The phrase magic pixie dust to me seems perfectly apt, it is merely how Tim views the situation, As for holy text being somehow more "wise" I find this concept really interesting, for example the writing of Shakespeare is also open to myriad interpretations and presents a detailed and interesting study of the human condition and morality as do those of Philip K Dick. Why are these not considered "holy"?
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      Mar 5 2011: Hi Tim

      The bible is 66 books written over 1500yrs by 40 authors most of whom never met. It is full of history, prophecy, science, poetry, & explains who we are & where we're headed. It reads as a continuos narrative in spite of it's patchwork authorship. It can be checked factually, & torn to pieces if found wanting. Men have spent entire lifetimes studying it & still had much to learn. It has changed millions of lives for the better, & many claim to have met with our creator in it's pages.
      It deserves to be treated with respect; it is different.

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        Mar 5 2011: Kathy/Peter/everyone:

        So perhaps the "holy" books are those that went through an extended process of change and selection. The best stories survived and the lesser ones were eliminated. The stories were many times retold and improved upon. The collection of stories were integrated into the society and became part of the society. Many of these stories may be the distillation of universal truth. They can create an aha moment giving insight and speaking to the heart.

        Why do we need any additional metaphysical explanation?

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