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Religion vs. law - Ed's journal
Religion vs. law
I'd like to put forward a theory.

For a very long time, the human race has been religious. Regardless on your viewpoint of your religion, it's undeniable, that for the last few thousand years, there's been some form of belief in the supernatural.

One of the key elements of religion, is that of aspiring to be better than you are. If you do certain things during your life, and you aspire to live well, then there will be a reward, often a reward after death. OR indeed, punishment if you're bad.

This kind of counterbalances against the legal system - the religious aspect tells you what you should do, and offers the carrot. The legal system tells you what you shouldn't do, and offers the stick. There's also a bit of overlap in the sticks, too, where religion also declares some stuff as bad, and that you'll suffer if you do it. Conveniently, this leaves room for the things that are hard to prove in a court of law.

But the thing is, the people I know don't tend to be of criminal inclination. This is not because they are bothered about getting caught, and the consequences thereof. They do not do certain things, because they believe they are wrong. Of course, similarly there's 'approximately illegal' things, that I've seen done, because whilst they're illegal, they're also not thought to be 'wrong' in turn. Things like speeding, down an empty, clear straight road, for example, might be a fairly common example, of illegal, but (often) accepted.

So I'd like to put forth the notion, that mankind is not ready for atheism. There are many wise people out there, who have considered the notion, and reached a personal conclusion. However similarly, there are also those who _haven't_ really considered it, they've just ... well, gone along with whatever.

There was a time, not so very long ago, that what you did on a sunday, was go to church. It was the accepted thing to do. As was being seen to follow the intent of Christianity. It didn't always work, but... well, actually, there are many worse ways to live your life, than by following the Ten Commandments.

But I digress. Religion, if believed, tends to lead towards the spiritual, to the aspiration of being greater than we are. The dream of transcendance, that leads to living a better life. If paid lipservice to... well, actually, if someone's pretending to be good god fearing folk, then that's almost as good.

This is not to say that religion cannot be perverted. It has been, many times over the centuaries. Wars have been fought over differences in interpretation. Crusades have been started, because slaughtering the infidel was considered holy. And more recently, we have the Islamic fundamentalist perversions of the faith, leading to suicide bombing and terrorism.

There will always be people who walk willingly into evil. There will always be those who can be lead astray. This is why we have the safety net of law - law is essentially laying down the consequences of certain actions, for those who are not deterred by the general consensus of 'it being wrong'. This does actually tend to correlate quite highly with the prevalent religion - how could it be otherwise, when you have a society believing, or pretending to believe in certain key tenets as to how to lead their life.

It's this, I think, that might be the problem we are starting to see emerging in society today. I'd make the assertion that 'religion' is diminished, and almost negated in modern society. Our new 'religion' is the celebs, and the media. It's the glitz of hollywood, and the iconisation of stars.

But this religion is flawed - it has no structure to good and bad. It doesn't lead the 'average citizen' into aspirations which are good for society. At the end of the day, ruthlessness, malice, and corruption are VERY powerful. If one is prepared to apply them sufficiently, to be prepared to take advantage of every opportunity, no matter the cost to others, then ... well, would it suprise you to find that many of our top 'movers and shakers' in politics and industry are borderline psychopathic?

The drive to power, the drive to succeed, the drive to press onwards, and accept the consequential harm to others, is a very valid and powerful survival trait.

This can only really be tempered, by the collective assertion of 'what is good'. Religion serves as a very useful mechanism to this end. There's probably others, but at the very least, if society as a whole, condemns the 'immoral' then one is essentially forced into that morality, and conformity, by one's very drive to excel.

Different religions have different aspirations. I'd probably go as far as saying that all our current relgions have been over interpreted. Again, they've had bits hacked in, and elements read, to serve the purposes of the corrupt. Their original meaning distorted, to a short term advantage.

Perhaps it's a factor that's needed. But perhaps we don't actually need a priesthood to tell us what The Word of God actually is. I mean, if you got rid of most of the bible, and made the holy book the ten commandments, and a bit of exposition of the intent, I daresay a lot of the evil carried out in the name of christianity wouldn't have been pulled off so easily. It's a bit hard to say 'I have interpreted this holy work, and actually, it says it's ok to go and kill all those funny looking people in Jerusalem' when you've only got 10 lines to 'interpret' and one of them is 'Thou Shalt Not Kill'.

Perhaps we should be looking to review, and re-instill beliefs in society. Something nice and simple, and less prone to misintepretation, by evil men. But the effect of religion as a whole, on the growth of our society, I think overall has been a positive one.

Mankind needs the myth. It needs the hope of eternal reward, for a life well lead. The 'average working man' needs his guidance, for how he should live - he's not interested in considering religion, or not, he just wants to conform with a society. Society itself should be supplying the moral constraints of what is acceptable and what is not, and at the moment it is failing.

This myth is the balance, for the fact that is law. This myth is what manages the expectations, and leads the aspirations of the 'average man'. It's what manages the populace, and focusess their intent and objectives. It outlines what is meant, by a good life, well lead. It is used to manage the natural tendency to ruthlessness, to kill, maim and brutalise one's way to glory, by supplying a counterpoint, and a hard to contradict counter argument, for "why should I not take what I can?".

One might even call it myth management.
30 comments or Leave a comment
jorune From: jorune Date: February 15th, 2008 10:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hello, this is Helsinki calling. This is the vote of the Finnish jury.

Peikko model after perjantai ehtoo?
necessitysslave From: necessitysslave Date: February 17th, 2008 06:22 am (UTC) (Link)
ok, I'm confused


xarrion From: xarrion Date: February 15th, 2008 11:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet, you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world. As if there is some, some rightness in the universe, by which it may be judged."
Terry Pratchett, Hogfather
queex From: queex Date: February 16th, 2008 12:08 am (UTC) (Link)
Perhaps it's a factor that's needed. But perhaps we don't actually need a priesthood to tell us what The Word of God actually is. I mean, if you got rid of most of the bible, and made the holy book the ten commandments, and a bit of exposition of the intent, I daresay a lot of the evil carried out in the name of christianity wouldn't have been pulled off so easily. It's a bit hard to say 'I have interpreted this holy work, and actually, it says it's ok to go and kill all those funny looking people in Jerusalem' when you've only got 10 lines to 'interpret' and one of them is 'Thou Shalt Not Kill'.

What you have left isn't a religion, though, it's a code of morality. What makes it a religion is the appeal to have faith in that which is inexplicable and unobservable. If you pare away the observances, the creation myth and the prophecy- you are left with a moral code.

A code of morality is good. But what some atheists contend is that codes of morality rooted in religion will inevitably pull what should be the province of faith into issues of morality.

Sunday church-going is a case in point. Regular church attendance has nothing to do with morality- it is an observance of ritual for both the individual and the community. Failing to attend church does not impair upstanding morality. Yet, for centuries, non-attendees were thought of as morally suspect simply on that basis.

You don't even need to construct a code of morality from a religious basis- plenty of philosophers have had a bash at one.

The danger of conflating moral behaviour with religious certainty is that the former should be flexible, as changing circumstances raise new problems and lessen old ones. Moral codes rooted in religion are notorious for inspiring anachronistic interpretations that, in the end, actually become immoral.
From: feanelwa Date: February 16th, 2008 12:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think attending church regularly used to have a moral dimension when more people did it. For some people, notably batty old ones or boring ones, that was the only place they would see anybody, and everybody else could give them some conversation so they didn't go stir-crazy and find out if they needed any help by asking them there.
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From: feanelwa Date: February 16th, 2008 12:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was thinking just that in the bath this morning. Environmentalism seems to be starting to rival celebrity as the new religion, though, which cheers me a bit.

I also think that religion gives people a reason not to lie in bed feeling terrified all day. If many people didn't think everything would somehow be alright, that good people would be rewarded and bad people punished or at least sent somewhere different from the good people (viz. themselves) and that one day they would find themselves somewhere illness and pain wouldn't be able to touch them, they would be terrified all the time. Certainly when I am ill I am tempted to go and join a church.
necessitysslave From: necessitysslave Date: February 17th, 2008 06:36 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree with you about Green becoming the new religion of the masses and that scares me a bit, for several reasons.

To have no "carbon footprint" you have to go so far out of your way not to do things like take advantage of the streetlights etc. At heart (when taken too far) Green is anti-progressionist. No you can't have that new technology infact letus all give up our cars.....

What is really annoying is that this is based on just about as bad science as "nuclear winter". A model is only useful as anything other than a teaching technique or a thought exercise when it makes a prediction about data that was not used to create said model. Therefore our best climet models should be able to make a good prediction about the weather/global tempereatures/number of cyclones etc. in the future and be judged on them.

However in the short term. No harm. Less polution is good and less wasting of resources better used elsewhere at different times will be good I just worry that bad science is taking us down the route of stagnation/regression.
From: linamishima Date: February 17th, 2008 03:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Environmentalism is only rivalling celebrity as a 'religion' for the middle classes. Active environmentalism by definition often requires greater expenditure to afford such alternatives and associated activism and devotion of time, and this class of people is also the most likely to spend the least amount of time being subjected to media influences.
ephrael From: ephrael Date: February 16th, 2008 12:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
You seem to be troubled by the concept that average people cannot accept a system of morality that does not have a basis in divinity.

Yes, religion is governing our lives less than it did 50, 100, or 200 year ago. This is a good thing. I'm not having the way I live dictated to me by spoon-fed rhetoric, simply because my distant forebears accepted it unquestioningly.
Human civilisation has always had bright peaks (Galileo, Turing, libraries and schools built by public subscription, Médecins Sans Frontières) and dark and dirty lows (gin palaces, slavery, gangs with knives, crack).
Yes, a coherent moral and legal structure is necessary. No, it doesn't have to come from religion.

May I recommend Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-Believer?
sobrique From: sobrique Date: February 16th, 2008 02:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
There are exceptions to every situation.

Are you trying to tell me though, that the vast majority of the human race, have made the same thought process, and have reached the same conclusion?
jorune From: jorune Date: February 16th, 2008 06:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
It is a fine thing to study and train the mind, thanks to wonderful books like I can read Qu'ran Anywhere! we can continue this important right and duty.

To quote Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)

"The search for Knowledge is a sacred duty imposed upon every muslim. Go in search of knowledge, even to China."

"God has not created anything better than reason, or anything more prefect or more beautiful than reason. The benefits which God gives are on its account; and understanding is by it, and God's wrath is caused by it, and by it are rewards and punishment."
velvet_nothing From: velvet_nothing Date: February 17th, 2008 09:57 am (UTC) (Link)
"The 'average working man' needs his guidance, for how he should live - he's not interested in considering religion, or not, he just wants to conform with a society."

Er... that's a bit patronising, isn't it?! I think perhaps you are underestimating the population in general here. Whether people are religious or not, I think that most *do* in fact have their own moral code, and that there are innate things such as the ten commandments that ring true to most people as being 'right' or 'wrong' regardless of what myths are attached to them.
elrohana From: elrohana Date: February 17th, 2008 11:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Actually, I don't think that IS an underestimation. I assume you have a job? If you work somewhere that is mainly populated by 'average' people e.g. an office, a shop, a factory, a call centre, please think for a moment of the last time you had an intelligent conversation with your co-workers about morality, religion/atheism/spirituality. More likely you hear nothing but drivel about TV, what the latest panic in the media is, money, fashion, getting pissed every weekend....you get my drift? (Unless of course you have a job somewhere more 'alternative', or work with people who were already your friends, or with people who mainly live 'alternative' lifestyles.) I have worked in offices, mostly in so called professional services firms but occasionally in sales or manufacturing, for over 18 years, and I have rarely been actual 'friends' with anyone I have worked with. There is one exception where I am now, a beautiful lesbian lady with opinions I do not always agree with but which she holds to passionately. The reason for my socialising only with people outside of work is, that way I get to choose people who use their brains as opposed to allowing them to atrophy whilst feeding them a diet of TV and media crap. No, I don't think the population is capable of its own moral code - I think a small minority of thoughtful people - some religious, some not - are capable of being decent moral creatures without some sort of system being imposed on them by religion, but ont he whole, I think humans are a nasty bunch who care about nothing but themselves. And yes, I am aware that this makes me sound horribly arrogant, snobbish and judgemental.
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mister_jack From: mister_jack Date: February 17th, 2008 05:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
"So I'd like to put forth the notion, that mankind is not ready for atheism."

If you're going to put forward the notion that mankind needs religion to stop people misbehaving you might want to find a few facts out first, perhaps such things as whether atheists are over or under represented in the prison population? Whether less religious countries have lower or higher crime rates than more religious countries? You know, just for example.

But let's not get the facts in the way of a good rant, hey?
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