Why we don't need religion

There was an op-ed in USA Today that I'm frankly a little surprised the usual crew like PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne haven't tackled in their own blogs, because it's filled with the usual kind of spurious reasoning that those guys love to pounce on not unlike Jerry Coyne's own cats. So I will dutifully step up to the plate and tackle this hogwash.

The article is by a guy named Oliver Thomas, and it's called "Why Do We Need Religion?" I would jump at the chance to write a similarly titled op-ed, but Thomas goes in a completely difference direction than I would with his conclusion. See, I would ask it rhetorically, while he's asking it ironically. But you knew that. In case you want to trudge through it, here's a link to the full article. I'll just tackle it in snippets.
Why religion? In the face of pogroms and pedophiles, crusades and coverups, why indeed? 
Religious Americans have answered the question variously. Worship is one answer. Millions gather each week to acknowledge their higher power. The chance to experience community is another. Healthy congregations are more than civic clubs. They are surrogate families. The opportunity to serve others also comes to mind. Americans feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless largely through religious organizations. Yet as important as community, worship and service are, I am convinced that religion's greatest contribution to society is even greater. 
Religion makes us want to live.
It does? Shit, as an atheist, I am in deep trouble, what with not have the will to live and all...
Man's search for meaning — whether in a Broadway penthouse or the darkest corner of hell — is the most basic building block of a successful life. Without a sense of purpose, many people will simply shrivel up and die, whether figuratively or, in some cases, literally. 
Alas, many of us have discovered purpose for our lives through religion. Inside America's churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and ashrams, we wrestle with the great questions of life. And with due respect to my atheist and left-leaning friends, most of those questions are not amenable to the scientific method. 
Why are we here?  
What does it all mean?
How should we then live? 
These are the things that matter most. Not whether Pluto is a real planet or the atomic weight of carbon is 12 or 13. Even Nietzsche recognized that if one can answer the why of life, he can cope with most any how.

Here I'm reminded of an old chestnut that came from the mind of that aforementioned PZ Myers: Just because science can't answer a question doesn't mean religion can.If religion is actually a tool for attaining knowledge (as it unquestionably claims to be), then it begs the question of how said knowledge is attained.

These questions are also question-begging questions. Why should these questions have answers? I mean, if you want to know why we're here, you can study astronomy, and learn about how ancient stars cooked heavy elements into lighter elements, then exploded in supernovae that spewed their enriched guts across the cosmos, forming new stars and planets – ours, at least, has been fortunate enough to spawn life. But if you're searching for some sort of transcendent or divine meaning to "why" we are here and what it all means, for some reassuring comfort that we are not mere accidents – well, tough luck. There's not actually any evidence of that. Sorry, but the cosmos does not care about you. Deal with it.

The foolishness of religion lies in the perception that it can actually provide useful answers to these questions. But as I've said a hundred times before, there is no methodology by which to discern religious truths from religious falsehood. There is no process for discarding unproved or spurious claims, or by which to build a consensus. The language of faith and religion is rooted in personal "revelation" and authority, not reason and evidence. Alright, but there's a bit more...
Here's the point: I think religion makes it easier to be decent. The positive core values, mutual accountability and constant striving for self-improvement help one to be a better person. And I want to be a better person. Not because I'm afraid of God. Because I'm grateful for another trip around the sun and, like a good house guest, want to leave this place in better shape than I found it.
Oliver doesn't actually even attempt to establish why this might be the case. But we can simply look at the world around us to see he's completely off track. A recent article in the LA Times reiterated what I, and many others, have been saying for some time: religion doesn't make us better. Religious people are no less likely to get divorced, suffer from depression, suffer illness or tragedy, or experience financial prosperity. The most secular nations in the world (think Scandinavia) are the most peaceful, healthy, and prosperous nations in the world. The conservative "Bible belt" states in the U.S. have higher per capita crime, lower test scores, higher teen pregnancy rates, and higher divorce rates than the rest of the nation. Evangelical young people who taught to extol per-marital purity are actually more likely to engage in pre-marital sex, and less likely to use protection (since sex education is generally frowned upon by religious conservatives). And let's not forget all the science denial, the young-earth or "Intelligent Design" creationisms, the war mongering, the "wives should submit to their husbands" sexism, the inter-faith divisiveness, and the violence and human rights atrocities committed in the name of religion.

We do we need religion, indeed?


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