Tag: atheism

Sam Harris and Scientific Morality Show the Height of Hubris

By Kaihua Zhou | United States

Merriam-Webster defines hubris as “exaggerated pride or self-confidence”. It is the most characteristic crime of intellectuals. In so many cases, they identify an existing issue and propose a baseless solution. Such is the case of Sam Harris, who is a philosopher and neuroscientist. Harris draws attention to a serious issue: religious extremism. However, his solution of atheism and scientific morality clearly shows his hubris, as his reasoning is deeply flawed.

Harris: Hubris and Worldview

Perilous pessimism flavors Harris’s worldview. According to him, the root cause of religious extremism is religion itself:

If you really believe that calling God by the right name can spell the difference between eternal happiness and eternal suffering, then it becomes quite reasonable to treat heretics and unbelievers rather badly. The stakes of our religious differences are immeasurably higher than those born of mere tribalism, racism, or politics. -Sam Harris

Note that Harris identifies religion solely as a cause of religious extremism. Economics, government structure, and education do not figure into the equation. Such is Harris’ hubris. If religion is inherently dangerous, we would expect religiously diverse communities to be unstable.

Stability and Religion

However, Singapore, the world’s most religiously diverse nation, is quite the opposite. 34% of its inhabitants are Buddhist, 18% are Muslim, and 14% are Christian. Of course, each religion argues that its truths are universal; their faithful followers believe in eternal consequences.

Despite these distinct religious communities, Singapore enjoys a considerable amount of what Harris calls “human flourishing.” Singapore is economically prosperous: its unemployment rate is about 2.2% and its GDP is 527 billion dollars. Surely, religious life is not the only cause of prosperity, or even necessarily one of them. Nevertheless, it presents a powerful counterexample to the claim that religion alone results in intolerance and instability.

Science and Morality

This flawed explanation of religious extremism is evidence of hubris. Though Harris claims to support scientific approaches to essential questions, he ignores clearly proven evidence that goes against his claim.

In fact, his scientific look at morality appears to be further evidence of his own hubris. Harris views moral questions primary in terms of consciousness:

Without a doubt, it is important to know the facts when looking at moral questions. We understand human flourishing in terms of economics (standards of living, the poverty line) and psychology (mental health). These facts can help alleviate suffering. For example, a proper medical diagnosis of PTSD or depression helps someone cope with their illness.

For Morality, Fact is Not Everything

Still, facts do not provide a compelling reason to be concerned with human suffering. Consider two individuals. One is a lifelong religious leader who has taken an active political role. Another is a former mathematics professor.  Which of these individuals is more likely to have a concentrated understanding of facts? If Harris is correct, the professor will be in a better position to answer moral questions, due to his understanding of fact. They will be more attached to reality and more tolerant, by his own logic.

However, the first man in the scenario is the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. The second, on the other hand, is the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. Where did Harris’ hypothesis fall short? A former mathematics professor is more likely to be unbound by arbitrary dogma. Despite this, Kaczynski was unconcerned whether or not his victims were flourishing.  He perfectly understood that his actions would result in human suffering.

This is not to suggest that Gyatso’s religious beliefs alone have given him greater moral expertise than Kaczynski. This would ignore the sophistication of human motivation. It does, however, refute Harris’ claim that facts can primarily answer moral questions, as Gyatso is not a murderer. It appears that knowledge does not necessarily allow someone to properly answer moral questions. There must, thus, be another way to determine this. Making such rigid criteria allows for vast errors. Not every man wise in fact can answer questions of opinion.

How To Address Religious Extremism

What can we do to address religious extremism? Rule of law, separation of church and state, and freedom of speech provide a beginning.  The United States and much of the West benefit from these institutions. Thankfully, they are largely free of religious violence. This accomplishment did not require societies to wholly abandon their religious traditions and adopt an empirical moral philosophy.

Yet, this is precisely the solution Harris uncompromisingly prescribes. Such is the height of his hubris, seeing science alone as a savior of humanity. Science cannot hope to resolve issues of morality without cooperating or begrudgingly tolerating religion. To say otherwise is to be blinded by pride.


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The Founding Fathers were Right to be Deists

By Jack Parkos | United States

The Age Of Enlightenment brought many new ideas to the world, including liberty, science, and skepticism towards monarchs. People may not know how much deism helped move these ideas. In fact most people don’t know what deism is. Some people may be deists and not know it.

To understand deism, it is important to recognize to other religious beliefs: atheism and theism. Atheists, of course, believe that there is no God, while theists disagree. Theists also believe in religious texts and ceremonies.

So what do deists believe? Deists believe that a supreme power created the universe but does not interfere with it. A deist would reject revelation, organized religion, and the supernatural. Deists often refer to “god” as “The Creator” as the belief is that The Creator did create the world, but does not seek to be worshiped as a god. The Creator created not only the universe, but the laws of physics, natural law, and the ability to reason.

Since deists have no book stating what they must believe, they must use reason to come to conclusion. Some deists believe in a more scientific creator, while others say The Creator is more spiritual. Deists also are divided on the afterlife. Some have slightly different views from others, but all agree on the principle of a Creator and no divine intervention. Some famous deists include Thomas Paine, Adam Smith, John Locke, and many other enlightenment thinkers. Many deists start out as Christians who reject the churches ideas but still believe in a creator of the universe.

You may be asking how deists come to this belief. What makes a Christian reject religion but still believe in the creator?  Let us start with the argument for an existence of a creator. Remember this creator is not the God of the Bible. Let us start with the universe itself, very complex, full of coincidences. In fact, the current state of the universe itself is highly statistically unlikely.

It’s nearly impossible for life to exist, given all of the factors required. The universe could not just pop into existence (the Big Bang). Rather, some higher power created it. Then, we look at how complex everything is. For example there are many laws of nature. The First Law of Thermodynamics states energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but transformed, from one form to another. This is a complicated law, stating that energy cannot be naturally created, but obviously energy exists. Thus, a paradox forms. Energy had to come from somewhere. We must also look at the idea of the Big Bang, science has explanation as to what was before the big bang nor a good reason how/why it happened. To point it simply, there are too many coincidences to believe in that the universe just happened.

Then, we look into biology and genetics. DNA is very complex and truly amazing. We all know that DNA is made of four nucleobases: A,T,G, and C. In just one cell there are 3 billion letters, all arranged perfectly to create each individual species. It is like the coding of a computer, and computers always have someone create a program. So what does this all point to?

A deist would use the reasoning that the complexity of DNA could not just be coincidence, much like how a computer program can’t just happen. How do those four chemicals arranged in billions of different ways create an individual living organism? The deist reasoning is that the Creator doesn’t pick out each chemical and arrange for each individual species but rather DNA and the way it works was a creation of his. DNA is simply to complex to not be a creation. Life is no coincidence.

Now we will look at the deist argument for a non intervening god. They will agree with theists that the world was created (though we may disagree on how), but then, the similarities end. Theists now state God has been watching over and intervening in the world, while deists believe nature has been governing us. Now, we must ask which is a more logical belief.

The most common intervention the theist will believe in is a religious text. But, there are so many different religious texts all claiming to be right, none having major evidence over the other. Why does one book (say the Bible, for example,) have more logic than the Quran? Both claim that theirs is the true word of god, yet neither have direct empirical evidence of that being the case. What makes a book the word of God? What makes claims of the Bible more rational than Greek Mythology? The idea of something being the “Word of God” was used to rule over people, (this is where it starts to tie into libertarianism, which I will analyze more in part 2) forcing people to follow rules and rule leaders because “God said so”.

The “Word of God” is not a book, as the Creator could not put his words in a way we could comprehend in a book. The word of God is rather, nature. Above we discussed the complexity of DNA. Think of how beautiful and amazing nature is. How perfect it is. This is the word of God, not claims from a Prophet. We all can observe nature, we all don’t get revelation. Which makes more logical sense?

Let us now look at other ways theists claim God intervenes. Miracles. Theists believe God may help the world through supernatural acts. Some claim God cures sickness, saves people in disasters, and even helps teams win in sports. But let us look at third world countries, people who pray the most and get the least amount of miracles. How does an all-powerful and intervening God allow such suffering to occur?

The theist, when asked, says the same scapegoat that they cannot understand the will of God. But that same person also claims that they can determine the word of God based off a two thousand year old book. That is blasphemy! An all-loving and all-powerful God would not allow evil to exist. Christians often respond to this with the fact that evil exists only because we have free will. Yet, God floods the Earth in their sacred text, robbing them of free will. The deist is the true believer of free will. There is no higher being controlling us. We are 100% free within the laws of nature.


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Humanist Spirituality

Craig Axford | United States

In an Op-ed published in the New York Times last month, the philosopher Stephen T. Asma offered a defense of religion. I responded with an article of my own published here on Medium a day or two later.

Asma’s article had a somewhat provocative title: What Religion Gives Us (That Science Can’t). My primary beef with Asma’s argument wasn’t that he was wrong about religion’s emotional benefits so much as he seemed to be arguing there are no other means — or at least no better means — of providing them.

Asma is correct that however we get them, as a social species we require the things religion provides: community, meaning, and ritual among them. As I’ve reflected now and then upon the argument he laid out in his June 3rd Op-ed, it’s clear to me that whether we are religious or not, we will seek out means of meeting these needs to the best of our ability.

Unfortunately, when it comes to theological debates there’s something inherently problematic about how we frame the argument. There’s an either/or quality to it. Having been raised in a religious family, this quality of religious belief has been something I’ve had to wrestle with throughout my own life.

Atheism isn’t a belief system. It’s the absence of a belief in a very specific idea: the existence of a supernatural being or beings. By itself, this absence does not determine any particular personal moral code. The failure to believe that Zeus still lives somewhere on Mt. Olympus or Yahweh really did speak to Moses from a burning bush does not require one to take a relativistic or nihilist view either of human relations or the universe as a whole, let alone mandate a lack of concern for the well-being of others.

Atheism represents one end of a spectrum. It’s a spectrum that is when we get right down to it, rather uninteresting in its dualism. On the other end is a belief in a god or gods and in between there is a short space occupied by doubters that lean one way or the other along with a fair number who don’t really have an opinion on the subject and don’t care to develop one. No matter how much any of the partisans in this fight may think otherwise, nowhere along this short line is the really important questions about human well-being, ethics, political philosophy, or science successfully resolved by any of the answers people give to the question of whether or not there’s a god.

 If we’re being honest, the question of God’s existence is a rather annoying distraction. It is, after all, an unanswerable question. If it were answerable it wouldn’t be a matter of faith but one of science. If certain practices or customs work to enhance human well-being, then we should strive to understand the reasons they work and to duplicate and perfect them to the greatest degree possible. If certain actions reduce suffering and improve our individual/collective quality of life, then we should laud them and seek to incorporate them into both our lives and our societies. This is a rule of thumb that shouldn’t be controversial to either believers or non-believers.

In a recent episode of the NPR program The Hidden Brain entitled Creating God, host Shankar Vedantam explored some of the current research surrounding religion’s origins and benefits. The broadcast featured University of British Columbia psychologist Azim Shariff. Though Stephen Asma’s name never comes up, Shariff generally agrees with his assessment of many of the benefits religion provides. But Shariff views religion from the longer perspective of biological and cultural evolution. As a result, the program ends with him pointing out that many of the functions religion once served have recently been taken over by other institutions.

We’ll sacralize ideas like freedom. We’ll sacralize our nation. We’ll sacralize the flag. And in terms of the governmental institutions that can spread trust, one of the interesting things you see is that if you look across countries, those countries that report having the least importance of religion to their daily lives are the countries that have the highest faith in the rule of law. So those are the places where you trust institutions like the bank, or contract enforcement, or the police, or the justice system.

Once you can set up those types of trusted secular institutions, well that obviates the need for a lot of what religion has done. Now, it’s only been in recent years that we’ve been able to have those types of centralized effective institutions, and still in most parts of the world we’re not able to. But, in those places where we are, we see ourselves moving towards a post-religious world where a lot of the functions of religion are accomplished by other means and potentially better means. ~ Psychologist Azim Shariff on NPR’s Hidden Brain, July 16, 2018 (Emphasis added)

Given the human tendency to sacralize objects, symbols, rituals, and beliefs is hardly restricted only to religion, we shouldn’t be surprised other institutions can take its place. Political ideologies, nationalism, pieces of art, stirring music, and even scientific theories are all examples of things that humans have, for better or for worse, sanctified and ritualized. That most biologists have the same visceral response to attacks on evolution as orthodox believers have when faced with challenges to their literal interpretation of scripture is not an indication that both are equally valid descriptions of reality. But it does demonstrate that whatever humans attach meaning to will become emotionally salient to at least some extent.

“I have never come across a coherent notion of bad or good, right or wrong, desirable or undesirable that did not depend upon some change in the experience of conscious creatures,” Sam Harris wrote in Waking Up: A guide spirituality without religion. The idea that we could create a moral philosophy that justified itself on anything other than its actual or foreseeable impacts upon us or other creatures similar enough to us for us to imagine how they would feel is, if we stop to think about it, patently absurd. As Harris points out later in the same paragraph, “If you think [particular] actions are wrong primarily because they would anger God or would lead to your punishment after death, you are still worried about perturbations of consciousness…”

That morality is grounded primarily in our experience is a fundamental tenet of what is commonly referred to as Humanism. The humanist label has been attached to a number of periods and philosophies, but the emergence of what we commonly understand as humanism today is best seen in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment periods.

As the political philosopher Larry Siedentop argues in his 2014 book Inventing the Individual, “Any set of basic assumptions opens up some avenues for thought, while closing down others.” Siedentop goes on to state that the Christian emphasis on the importance of each soul rather ironically paved the way for the individualism that became central to what eventually developed into modern secular humanism.

It was precisely this initially Christian and later secular regard for the dignity and worth of the individual upon which modern democratic societies are built. It provides a blueprint for all contemporary societies to follow as they hopefully move toward greater freedom in the future. However, while theism can exist within a humanist framework, humanism cannot exist within a theocratic one. In a pluralistic society humanism already rules the day because pluralism is a humanist ideal.

Every mainstream tradition existing within a modern pluralistic context has necessarily sacralized the individual. Each person, no matter where they are along the belief spectrum, relies upon their personal right to determine for themselves where they will stand and to express their reasons for standing there if they choose to do so. This sanctifying of the individual can readily be found within our churches as well as in conversations among secular humanists.

From a purely humanist perspective, the challenge isn’t how best to articulate the dignity and rights of the individual but how to incorporate religion’s commitment to the community into its ethos without sacrificing its core principle. Enshrining freedom of religion into law didn’t just enable heretics to break away and speak their mind without risking punishment. It also enabled worshipers to willingly commit themselves to a religious community, with all the personal sacrifices that often entails, while still maintaining that doing so was an expression of their own individual freedom.

Humanism as a philosophy places a number of intellectual demands upon those that embrace it: an appreciation for the scientific method, healthy skepticism, and a degree of openness to uncertainty. However, in practice, it has struggled to replicate the structured setting and ethic of mutual support religion has historically been good at.

As is pointed out in the Hidden Brain episode Creating God mentioned above, the threat of punishments such as eternal damnation does play an important role in sustaining membership in religious organizations and motivating followers to adhere to the moral codes their religion promotes. Humanists, on the other hand, believe that people should do the right thing not because they desire a future reward or fear a future punishment, but because there are reasons that we can identify for doing the right thing. Those reasons follow from the consequences of the actions in question and can be evaluated both objectively as actual physical or emotional impacts on ourselves and others, and subjectively in terms of how we would feel if we were on the receiving end of the action.

Humanists and other secularly minded people are organizing themselves into communities in greater numbers, though membership lags far behind anything seen in most religious denominations. American humanists first began seriously organizing themselves in the 1920s. The humanists responsible for starting what became the American Humanist Association emerged from the Unitarian tradition at that time. For its part, Unitarianism represented the first religion to formally embrace the Enlightenment values many of us take for granted today, but remains relatively small as religions go.

Unitarian ministers and humanists organizing regular meetings of like-minded individuals could be forgiven for sometimes wishing eternal damnation was available to them to hold over a membership that too often chooses to sleep in on Sunday mornings. But humanism’s success shouldn’t be measured in membership numbers or attendance statistics. Humanism’s greatest accomplishment is the variety of museums, concerts, non-profit organizations, political beliefs, and religious choices now available for billions of people around the world to choose from.

Humanism does not require people to give up a belief in a supreme being or other “supernatural” powers. However, it does set aside such beliefs as meaningless to our attempts to address life’s most fundamental challenges and enhance our understanding of reality. As Azim Shariff pointed out, as societies provide greater economic security and a longer menu of activities and ideas for people to choose from, the emotional needs that religion once met can increasingly be satisfied via other means. As more and more communities develop around causes and pursuits in the secular realm that fulfill our desire to find meaning and form communities, the types of demands religions place upon individuals as a condition for membership will make it harder and harder for them to compete.

The sense of wonder we often describe as spirituality can also be readily evoked listening to a symphony, viewing an awe-inspiring work of art, at the local natural history museum, in solitude or with others watching a beautiful sunset, or even lost in conversation with friends at the local coffee shop. Imposing a religious doctrine or highly ritualized behavior upon these pastimes simply isn’t necessary to receive many of the benefits Asma and others argue religion provides.

What religion has been able to give us that humanism can’t effectively deliver is the illusion of membership in a chosen tribe. In addition, with membership in a particular faith has come the assurance of comfort during periods of suffering and loss. However, whether we’re believers or not the price we are each increasingly required to pay in return for the benefits of living a modern secular society is greater personal responsibility. The role of providing for each other is now not only the proper moral stance of the individual as a person in their own right but the proper civic role of the citizen within a much larger national/global cosmopolitan community. This is true not because we will receive some heavenly reward in exchange but because regardless of our personal religious beliefs or nationality we all benefit right here on earth from such mutual concern and cooperation.

For the first time in human history, we must find within ourselves the motivation to care for each other rather than relying upon promises of heaven or threats of hell to do the heavy ethical lifting that comes with being born human. Likewise, mere assertions that a divine being has dictated a moral code is no longer sufficient in a pluralistic setting where others often don’t share the same religious beliefs. Within societies aspiring to provide greater freedom to their people morality must rest upon reason. That’s a heavier burden than we’re used to carrying, but one lightened by the shared humanist conviction that our individual right to choose what we will believe and how we will pursue fulfillment is only guaranteed by our willingness to recognize everyone else’s right to do the same.

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As Mind Hacks Go, Religion Isn’t The Best One

By Craig Axford | United States

In a June 3rd New York Times Op-ed, the philosopher Stephen Asma lays out a common argument for why humans need religion. “Religious practice is a form of social interaction that can improve psychological health,” Asma states. To make his point he tells the story of a student whose brother was brutally murdered and whose mother was only able to cope by finding solace in the belief she would see her son again in the afterlife.

That religious belief can provide great comfort in times of immense suffering has both powerful anecdotal and scientific support. But as with just about every other cultural adaptation that humans have come up with, there’s a downside as well as an upside. Some adaptations are more downside than up, while others are more upside than down. Asma’s forthcoming book, Why We Need Religion, may offer us a solid argument for the view that religion is largely upside but his NY Times opinion piece doesn’t.

Stephen Asma has a rather odd way of praising religion. His article in the Times often reads like a rather backhanded compliment. He seems to think that what we believe and how we go about believing it is either of little or no consequence or that it is worth the personal and social price we have to pay to purchase relief from the pain life’s slings and arrows inflict. Religions, of course, historically have taken themselves rather more seriously, and most still do.

In the tragic case that Asma cites — a mother who lost a son to a brutal stabbing and could only find comfort in a belief in an afterlife — we have only his word for it (based upon an account Asma received from a student) that this woman could find relief from her suffering by no other means. However, for the sake of argument let’s assume this is an accurate retelling of how one mother found a way to move beyond her loss. According to Asma’s own account, this story puts religion in the category of something that works as a last resort, not as a preferred or ideal method for coping with suffering.

Furthermore, Asma never attempts to interview even one out of the millions who have experienced personal loss without needing to resort to a belief in an afterlife or other untestable things in order to cope. In order to build a solid argument that a sincere belief in realms that can’t be proven translates into a speedier recovery or greater psychological health, shouldn’t a thorough survey of alternative worldviews be a necessary part of the research?

His failure to provide any research into how nonbelievers cope with personal loss doesn’t stop him from assuming they turn to science. After making this erroneous assumption he tells readers the approach we don’t take doesn’t work. “No amount of scientific explanation or sociopolitical theorizing is going to console the mother of the stabbed boy,” Asma writes. “Bill Nye the Science Guy and Neil deGrasse Tyson will not be much help, should they decide to drop over and explain the physiology of suffering and the sociology of crime.”

I don’t know Bill Nye or Neil deGrasse Tyson personally, but I don’t have any difficulty imagining that their method of providing comfort in a situation like this would be rather typical of most caring human beings: a hug and perhaps a few shared tears. A science lecture wouldn’t be in the cards unless Nye and Tyson are completely lacking in situational awareness. Asma, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, apparently thinks that atheists and agnostics do lack such awareness and would prescribe a few episodes of Cosmos for parents in mourning over a recently deceased child.

Science does not claim to be a source of solace. Science is a method for uncovering facts about our universe and how it functions, not an analgesic for the families of murder victims. To the extent science is useful in these situations, it is because it has provided therapists with a greater understanding of how we emotionally and physically respond to severe stress and aided our development of better therapeutic responses. To the best of my knowledge, no research into the stages of grief and the best means of getting through them psychologically intact has found a science lecture to be useful.

It’s troubling that a philosopher like Asma has adopted such a cavalier attitude about belief systems. Given life inevitably will involve suffering, human well-being must ultimately depend upon our capacity to cope with it without experiencing debilitating physical or emotional harm. Whenever possible we should strive to avoid using false or unprovable beliefs as a means to this end when equally good perspectives with greater empirical support are available. There may have been a time when religion was the best game in town when it came to coping with personal suffering, but that simply is no longer the case.

Asma’s curious attitude toward truth in this context is determined by what the “emotional brain” wants. Here’s how he puts it in his article:

Those of us in the secular world who critique such emotional responses and strategies with the refrain, “But is it true?” are missing the point. Most religious beliefs are not true. But here’s the crux. The emotional brain doesn’t care. It doesn’t operate on the grounds of true and false. Emotions are not true or false. Even a terrible fear inside a dream is still a terrible fear. This means that the criteria for measuring a healthy theory are not the criteria for measuring a healthy emotion. Unlike a healthy theory, which must correspond with empirical facts, a healthy emotion is one that contributes to neurochemical homeostasis or other affective states that promote biological flourishing.

No, emotions aren’t “true or false.” But they are warranted or unwarranted. A parent that has just lost a child is justified in feeling deep sadness regarding the loss. He/She has a reason for feeling this way. But there is nothing in our evolution as a species that states a mother or father must adopt a false or unverifiable belief in order to eventually move on with their life. Atheists and agnostics lose family and friends all the time, and the vast majority of them still manage to get out of bed in the morning.

If a person truly cannot find a way of coping with their grief that does not involve the permanent use of magical thinking, there’s nothing emotionally healthy or warranted about it. If a person loses even the capacity to entertain doubts about their religion (or any other worldview, scientific or otherwise), that’s not someone who has been rescued by their belief system, but someone who has become severely cognitively impaired by it. That’s not a good thing from either an individual or societal perspective.

Asma argues that “Religious practice is a form of social interaction that can improve psychological health. When you’ve lost a loved one, religion provides a therapeutic framework of rituals and beliefs that produce the oxytocin, internal opioids, dopamine and other positive affects that can help with coping and surviving.” This statement is worth breaking down and analyzing in greater depth.

The “social interaction” that Asma mentions I assume gets to one the greatest benefits of religion that researchers have cited, namely community. We are social creatures, and as such we don’t usually function as well physiologically or emotionally in isolation for long periods. But religious communities are just one of many forms our interactions with others can take. In fact, religious services themselves tend to occur only occasionally. The Abrahamic religions meet regularly only once a week on average, so by themselves, they would have to be very powerful experiences indeed to drag someone suffering a profound loss through the other six days of the week.

What religions provide is a reliable support network. These networks can be called upon during the remainder of the week to help individuals get through a crisis, which can make a huge difference to both the speed and quality of a person’s recovery. But it isn’t the belief in an afterlife that these communities share that either Asma or researchers in the field are pointing to here, but the “social interactions” they provide. In other words, a highly supportive book or chess club will do just as well in a pinch provided they are there for you when needed.

Next Asma refers to a “therapeutic framework of rituals and beliefs” that releases oxytocin, dopamine, and produces “other positive affects” that can assist a suffering individual. Again, that religion does have this impact isn’t in dispute. However, that it is the only or best mechanism for producing these “positive affects” is highly questionable.

First, let’s take a closer look at the importance of the religious beliefs. As was pointed out above, Asma himself admits that “The emotional brain doesn’t care” whether something is true or false. He also states that while “Beliefs play a role…they are not the primary mechanisms for delivering such therapeutic power.” It is the “religious practice (rituals, devotional activities, songs, prayer and story)” that offer “us opportunities to express care for each other in grief, providing us with the alleviation of stress and anxiety, or giving us direction and an outlet for rage.”

Since by Asma’s own admission the beliefs don’t really matter either to our emotions or as mechanisms for our recovery, all things being equal we might as well utilize beliefs that don’t require us to to adopt patriarchy as our default position when it comes to relations between the sexes or to jettison the theory of evolution in exchange for a 6000 year-old earth. Whatever impact these beliefs may or may not have on our emotional recovery after a traumatic event, they do have implications for the health of our relationships and society as a whole, so we should at least consider them in that context.

That leaves rituals, which can play an important role in providing people with a sense of continuity and some semblance of control during difficult periods. Ritual can be a strong antidote for the powerlessness we feel when our life is in turmoil. But here too religion need not be the only source for ritual. Meditation, for example, can easily be substituted for prayer and has the benefit of working as well in a secular as in a religious context.

If religions were more open to serving as halfway houses where people recovering from whatever it is that emotionally ails them could park themselves for a while and temporarily take on beliefs until their equilibrium was restored, Asma’s argument would be much more difficult to find fault with. Unfortunately, religion typically insists upon belief and loyalty in exchange for these services. In extreme cases, this can involve the rejection of science or even the rejection of non-believing friends.

Stephen Asma briefly touches upon religion’s “dark side” in a single paragraph in his Op-ed, but religion’s shadowy side deserves more attention than that. While there are a few liberal churches that have a high degree of tolerance for doubt and are willing to let people come and go as they feel the need, these institutions are sadly the exception. For obvious reasons, they have a hard time building up a large membership. Hopefully, his book will provide answers to the challenge more orthodox and fundamentalist religions pose that go beyond a few lines.

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The EU is Flawed, but Not How I Previously Believed

By Owen Heimsoth | United States

Over the past several months, my beliefs on foreign policy have drastically changed. In fact, I wrote this article critiquing a proposed United Europe. Don’t get me wrong, I am still opposed to this idea, but for different reasons.

My opinion on the European Union and general foreign policy has basically taken a one-hundred-eighty-degree turn. I have become sharply more internationalist and pro-globalism. This has been caused by a careful mixture of more research on global affairs, and also life experience.

Quite simply, I made several straw-man arguments in this anti-EU article.

First up was an argument about a potential cultural collision.

Each country in the EU has its own culture. Obviously, some of the better run governments are run in homogeneous countries. In this situation, there are twenty-three different cultures and histories that are to be mashed together. This would become a melting pot bigger than the United States. This doesn’t even include the cultures of different regions of a country.

First off, there is no statistical proof that homogeneous governments are so-called “better off.” In fact, the USA is the melting pot of the world, yet has the highest GDP out there. Culture mixing exposes others to new ideas and teaches those to be more accepting of others. Yes, there may be some cultural clash, but Europeans are also raised having more multiculturalism than Americans like myself.

Next up, I argued that language would become an issue. This ignores the fact that most Europeans, especially those in the West, speak two or more languages.

My last major argument was about religion and the three countries in the EU that have a state-endorsed religion.

Religion would also come into play. There are three countries in the EU that have a recognized state religion-The UK, Denmark, and Greece. There are also multiple countries in the EU that favor a religion but doesn’t list it as official. In the formation of the “United States of Europe,” religions would clash and states would likely leave because of this. State secularism would have to be adopted and many countries would be opposed to this.

This is ignoring the fact that people are increasingly staying away from religion. Actually, being non-religious is the second most popular affiliation in both the UK and in Denmark. This lack of religion is becoming more popular among young citizens.

To finish my article, I argued about 2 failures of the EU. I noted EU-imposed austerity measures as a problem causing the debt crisis, but this is just factually incorrect and simply not the cause of the crisis.

The EU, of course, is not without fault. In fact, there are a number of key issues with it. That being said, straw-man arguments against the union are very common. Despite clear flaws, all government deserve a proper and fair evaluation. By doing so, we can begin to focus on the problems that do exist and further liberty worldwide.


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