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 3 2011: The starting statement for this conversation was Dawkin's commentary on 9/11. But for me, a more significant factor for wanting to confront religion was the US action against Iraq. Being a democracy, I think all American's hold a degree of responsibility for that atrocity. And it's hard for me to believe that the religious factor did not weigh in our decision to attack. The fact that support for the war correlated with religious fundamentalism. The fact that the Iraqis were not of "our" religion. The fact that Bush felt god supported his decision.

    Do others feel as I do? If not can you at least understand my reasoning?
    • Comment deleted

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        Mar 3 2011: Kathy: I have no control over your postings and would not censor this conversation in any case.

        I noticed there is a discussion on ted censorship here:


        Let me know if you find out anything.

        Am still digesting the holy text posting.
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        Mar 4 2011: Kathy: Don't see any place where we disagree. The ancient texts that have stood the test of time deserve special attention, but need to be interpreted metaphorically.

        On this subject I'll be starting a new thread. Look for one starting with "On ancient texts".
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        Mar 6 2011: Kathy:

        What part of my argument (start of thread) do you disagree with:
        . that Americans are responsible for the actions of their government?
        . that it was an atrocity?
        . that there is a correlation between religious fundamentalism and support for the war?
        . that there is a causal relationship between religious fundamentalism and support for the war?
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        Mar 7 2011: Well, it looks like this thread has become a bit of a monologue since no one else seems to want to address these issues. But I feel the need to record my views in our conversation. I'll assume that we agree that 1) all Americans hold a degree of responsibility for the actions of our government and 2) the US action in Iraq was an atrocity and move on to my third and forth points.

        To me the correlation between religious fundamentalism and support for the war is apparent in what I see around me. For example, in my town there protesters come out almost every weekend. Here are some pictures:


        The building in the background of the first picture is the Courthouse with the plaque of the Ten Commandments that I mentioned in a previous post. Talking to these people it's obvious how much religious fundamentalism plays a role in their thinking. But if my observations are in doubt, there are plenty of polls which quantify the correlation:

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        Mar 7 2011: Moving on to the causal relationship.

        Is it any coincidence that this war was in the land of the Tigris/Euphrates? No. Recent revelations from the ex-President of France Jacques Chirac reveal that Bush "saw Gog and Magog" at work:

        Bush, Gog and Magog

        Moreover, its been long known how Rumsfeld manipulated Bush using religion. The use of biblical references in White House briefings was the most blatant:

        Donald Rumsfeld's holy war: How President Bush's Iraq briefings came with quotes from the Bible

        Cenk does the best job of summing it all up:

        • Mind S 30+

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          Mar 7 2011: Tim,
          This issue of believing in Bronze Age « prophrcies » is really a serious, annoying thing and it tells about one of the most bothering and horrifying aspects of religions. The Middle East conflict over the Palestinian issue is one of the most tragic events of our time, it is a continuous bleeding since the 40's of the last century, which is basically fed by belief in such old Biblical tales/"prophecies". Now your link revealed another tragic event (the Iraq war) that has been triggered by adopting another Biblical “prophecy” . How many people have been killed and suffered from these two prophecy-motivated aggressions? Hundreds of thousands if not millions; and how do religion morals warrant such acts?. What makes one stop and reflect deeply is the ability of blind faith to transform the mentality of contemporary people into savage mentality of desert nomads who lived thousands of years ago…

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