Politics, religion, and money: the trifecta of conversation topics to avoid during a dinner party. We live in such a diverse society that assuming the people around you think similarly about these fundamental issues is just plain stupid. We all have a different opinion and we all have something to offer on these topics; some of us are just more vocal about it than others.
People on Quora were asked: "Do we need religion?" One Quora user Adeel Khan had an incredibly in-depth and calculated response to this question. Here it is!
The question is 'Do we need religion'?
In order to objectively come up with an answer, one must define what ought to considered as 'we' and what is the definition of a religion.
Today, through observation and measurement, we can deduce the following realities:
1. Our first invention was the story. Storytelling has proved to be immensely useful when it comes to the transfer of ideas in a memetic fashion. Stories have such a strong hold on us. The way we respond to stories has a completely different effect on us vs many other activities that require significant cognitive cycles. Stories can put your whole brain to work. When a human brain is engaged in being receptive to story-telling, there is this direct connection being made to another brain. During this transfer thoughts, ideas and emotions can be implanted from one brain to another. Speakerlistener neural coupling underlies successful communication
2. Religion is a very loosely held collection of stories. Stories that have been handed down from generation to generation. With conversion accounting for the remainder of the percentage.
3. Before printing press, we had the scrolls. And before the scrolls all earthly cultures followed the oral tradition.
4. Speaking of which, most languages share a common ancestor. For example, most Indo-European languages share a common ancestor.
5. From the perspective of Comparative mythology, there have been common themes (mythology, theology) that can be found across the various cultures. The great flood and virgin birth is something that predates the Christian belief. Mention of it in Greek text and also Hindu Scriptures. (amongst others)
6. Theology has evolved from the stories that earthly cultures had been telling their tribes throughout the times.
7. Fast forward to the future. Today, the rise of technology and new age transportation system is leading to increased globalization. Increasingly, cultures are mixing. And as a common culture begins to appear, we are beginning to realize what we have known all this time. That we are more similar and like vs our perceived differences. Deep down inside, we all have hope/dreams/ambitions that drive our existence and some fears/inhibition that also restricts us in some ways.
8. Often modernity (putting down the spear and using debate as a tool) would clash with cultural baggage. This clash results in all sorts of problems, some of which will be outlined below.
9. The are stories, that individuals and groups may have been telling each other for a long time. This act of story-telling conditions individuals and groups in a certain way. Often, this collective story-telling aspect finds it way through the wider subset of society and impacts (on society and individuals) can be disastrous. In random order:
For example: Fundamentalist Muslims and Fundamentalist Christians believing that having gays, lesbians and transgender individuals in a society brings down the wrath of 'God' in a Sodom and Gomorrah sense. The repetition of these stories leads some to become deranged and violent, as has been evidenced an innumerable number of times. Most recently at Orlando, FL, which goes down as the worst mass murder event in US history.
Christian fundamentalists bombing abortion clinics and terrorizing doctors who perform abortions. Being a doctor who performs abortions means you always fear your life is in danger
Violence and its interpretation in Islam. Or to be more precise, how Wahhabism provides the ideological fuel for global terrorism. The larger islamic world does not do enough about this problem, as:
The Islamic community looks at all of its adherent as part of a larger brotherhood. They will fight and kill each other in all the gruesome ways. The uneducated masses that were busy killing each other, can be quickly manipulated to fight against the infidels.
The fundamentalist Muslim has a very different view of life after death. Dying is not a problem at all. And martyrdom is the ultimate insurance.
Antisemitism throughout the various cultures.
Silencing of dissent in countries where Blasphemy Laws are in effect (For example: Saudi Arabia and Canada. Yes, Canada).
Hijacking public policy that veers scientific and technological progress. Makes innovation flow away to another part of the world. Many, many such problems. All of these problems exist, because of the stories that have been told.
In this respect, religion is the ultimate Stanford prison experiment. If you believe, then you are the guard and prisoner if you dont. Depending on the culture that you happen to be in and the level through which it has been able to bring about reforms and modernize itself, the guards may treat the prisoner with a bit more restraint. But if you are not a believer, then there is some contempt in store for you.
From a historical point of a view, most religions tend not too get along. Some examples: Christianity and antisemitism Islam and antisemitism Islamophobia in the United States
SIKHS RELATIONS WITH MUGHAL EMPERORS - Sikh struggle against Mughal empire
Next, a major argument in favour of religion is helps brings peace to the individual. Here:
It may not be the religion itself, but the religious practice that helps bring peace. For example, meditation has been proven to reduce stress. As well, result into positive changes for the brain. Praying may do the same, but the act of praying comes along with all the other baggage. Hey, you must love this God, but you must also hate Gays and be vary of those of who do not believe! Do not make friends with them. Abortion is just bad and we slaughter goats and cows in streets on a certain day because one of our prophets did the same! Praise be to God. Our culture is the best. Look at how the infidel treat their women!
Since there is a ton of baggage that each one of the religions are carrying around. The examples above are a very tiny tiny sample.
Hence, collectively speaking, this peace of mind is coming at the expense of another? Another religion, people of different and diverse sexual identities, people of no religion, lack of progress/growth/scientific advancement that hurts everyone + the environment in the long run.
Next, scientifically speaking, humans appear to be hardwired for religion. But perhaps it is not a belief in a higher power that we are wired for. But for social cohesion. As it is social cohesion, that had protected us against the wind, the rain, the changing elements, the predators in the jungles and also across the savannah.
And after wiping out all the other animals on top of the various food chains, the #1 threat to humans, today, are humans themselves. 9 countries possess 15000 nuclear weapons, cyber weapons can be used to cause massive floods and other really evil things, wars are still fought and they have some element of religious thinking driving them. Even climate change is human induced. Created by humans.
Humans crave social cohesion and organized religions have mastered this domain. Truly mastered and in their own interpretation of their cultural environment. Very few institutions do such an effective job of delivering a set of experience. This delivering experience sits on a rather wide spectrum, for lack of a better word. Between endorphins free-flowing at a sermon or at any religious congregation to Mortification of the flesh in the name of religion. Some other examples in this realm and in random order:
Jesus Camp is one of the documentary, through which some of the effects of Christian indoctrination have been captured.
A quarter of a million cows, goats and camels sacrificed each year in the name of religion. All on a single day. Eid al-Adha Ibrahim was instructed by God to sacrifice one of his sons and he was about to do that. Yes, there is absolutely nothing, I say, nothing wrong with that story. Like any normal person would just slaughter their kid because the voices in their head told them to do just that. But Gabriel intervened at a convenient time and now all Muslims must do the same. Because, its religion and this story is completely normal folks. Right? Meanwhile, quote, Douglas Hofstadter has twinges of guilt when he swats a fly.
I guess listening to Qawwali, in a group setting is comparatively benign. And since no strip clubs exists across the Muslim world, they just shower the money on the guys who are singing. Holding hands and singing religious songs in giant group settings. I have never done this. But I think it would be difficult, to *not* be swayed by what was going on.
Next, from the perspective of organized religion, the delivery of these experiences always comes at a cost.
That baggage aspect of religion through the mere fact that that logic exists, infringes on someone, a group and/or an individual, for their right to exists and enjoy their life as they deem fit.
Collective bullying is tolerated because it has become fashionable in that cultural setting and religion influences that unfortunate reality.
Here, and unfortunately most religious leaders are completely mum (silent) to all the the hate being spread in the name of religion. By perpetuating the memes that have been going around for a long time. Some of them only begin to wake up, when something truly horrific and evil has happened. For example: Florida bishop on Orlando attack: Sadly, religion 'often breeds contempt' for LGBT people.
Then they issue a blanket statement in order to strongly condemn the act. After a couple of weeks, everyone forgets about the event. The majority goes back to spreading and perpetuating the baggage in the form of those negative memes.
This cycle will continue. Not sure where this is leading us, but it does appear that this cycle is going towards some huge disaster of sorts.
Speaking of disasters. A disaster is *not* a single event, a disaster occurs because of a a series of events.
Sometimes I wonder if religion has dulled our senses to a point, where we are generally incapacitated from truly feeling anything. And if we are truly conscious and aware, then why do terrible events keep happening and we find ourselves incapacitated in order to truly bring about reform.
Because, well…. tradition. Some part of our collective self, wants to hold onto ideas from the lore. I think, I suspect that this is an illusion of sorts. And this illusion provides temporary stability at the expense of what can be powered.
Must be indoctrinated with ideas. Must treat them with disdain and accuse them of heresy, blasphemy and lunacy if they detract from the path.
Some Saudis claim that spreading atheism equates to spreading terrorism and is punishable. Because it offends their religious beliefs. Pope Francis is of the opinion that you must not criticize religion. Any religion. So there are billions who listen to these religious leaders and each one of these individuals interprets the message in their own ways.
Some have so much emotions attached with their belief(s) that they would even resort to using violence in order to justify whatever it is that is going through their mind. And as long as such memes are perpetuated, the problems will remain. People will do terrible things in the name of religion. And as long as religion exists, these acts will continue.
Next, lets talk about progress.
From the perspective of entire societies. It has been science that has powered all progress. From the time of Galileo and up and until now.
Science, you do something 3200 times and it works every single time the way you had expected that it was going to work! To change a reality, first you have to measure it and understand it deeply and then you work on re-defining it to your will.
No matter how many religious rituals are performed in an infinite universe, it wont even be in a position to move a single speck of dust. So science drives all the progress, all prosperity and all growth.
But religion wants to come in each time, interject and even have the audacity of claiming that scientific and technological progress must be retarded or not done at all. Because the doing of certain Sciences, infringes with the teaches of certain religions. Meanwhile and throughout history, religion has no proposed no solutions. Zero.
People who are religious may have proposed a solution. But religion, by itself, has not been able to recommend anything.
On what should be done with all the other problems that our collective self is confounded with. The list is long, terrorism, climate change, rising unemployment due to automation are hard problem as it is. But on a longer time scale, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many challenges that our species are going to be faced with and unfortunately religion/theology cannot help provide answers to any of these perplexing questions.
It is not to say that people with a background in theology should not be consulted with.
But at the same time, I do not believe that it is at all necessary to consult with individuals with a background in theology. This act, of doing things this way, is just a continuation of following tradition. This is probably how it has been done since the time of the Sumerians. A committee for everything. For sighting the moon, to approve cancer research, to approve the building of a giant Orion class ship, to approve the right for transgender individuals to exist as equals, to approve that mindfiles are conscious entity. The list is long and this approval process, to seek the approval for the sake of getting a checkmark is not necessary. I dont think so.
Overall, organized religion simply seeks to extend it's influence. It is a meme that exists for a single purpose. To spread.
This spread of memes was useful at a time when information and resources were both scarce. A reality where, how humans should have been behaving, interacting with each other, governing and settling their affairs (laws, military campaigns e.t.c) was to be done in light of some purported deity.
It was a tough time folks. There was no technology, the average lifespan was probably 3o to 34 years. Disease, sickness, pestilence were common. Infant mortality was high. Where, irreconcilable differences between cultures and even amongst the same tribes were settled through violence. Terrible, wicked violence with no rules of engagements at all. In evolutionary terms, chivalry is a much more recent phenomenon.
During such times, it mayyy (thats a big may) have made sense to have a set of principles that individuals within a society could adopt. So instead of educating everyone from scratch on each and every principle. Instead, you create an operating system of sorts that would pass on from individual to individual, town to town, culture to culture and continent to continent on its own.
A set of stories with a ton of emotion attached to it. So much so, that it would appeal to the many, the simple minded. And when it would appeal to the masses, then it would make governance easier and lead towards things like centralized governance.
This is what happened with the rise of monotheistic religion. Starting with some of the earliest civilizations and going all the way back to the Sumerians.
In the present day context and in a modern, progressive society there is less of a need for religion. Religion is in decline Google it.
As a religion continues to grow. Then there is a high degree of probability, that at some point it will start impacting policy making. This is a huge conversation by itself.
These are the reasons and then some more where innovation, modernity, prosperity and rights of humans take a negative hit in a nation state where the majority is an adherent of some religious belief. Where through the enablement (or disablement) of the mechanisms - diversity of thought, right to believe or not to believe, freedom of expression, challenging the status quo are all undesirables and must not be tolerated. With this intolerance also goes away the prospects of having realities that can and will be powered on top of imagination.
After all there is an enormous Universe out there and religion is constantly condition us to put limits on ourselves. Never really being in a position to answer the deeper question and relating to the why.
Next, religions help in perpetuating suffering. Yes, you read that right.
Think about it this way, if there was no suffering, then there would be no need to have belief in a higher power. A reason why people want to believe in a higher power is to escape the terrible realities of our construct. Religious people pray to their Gods in order to help make the bad things go away. But prayers have not changed anything.
For example, there is a long History of terrorism. Every time an act terrorism occurs, the good/well-intentioned individuals send out prayers for those affected. But those prayers do not help stop acts of terrorism.
Next and in a hypothetical world where religion does not exist, then specific and concrete actions would be taken in order to first define and then safeguard individual and collective consciousness. Something tells me that there would be more understanding and empathy in such a world.
Here, people may believe in a higher power, because they are struggling and this very struggle in these cases may be resulting into suffering. If your dog has passed away, then that suffering is genuine. But there does not have to be disease, aging or even death. Where there is no judgement. Only understanding and giving individuals unlimited opportunities in order to better their condition. I dont buy it that there is no such thing as free-will in a universe where we do not even know how quantum mechanics really works.
When individuals cannot get to the answers that could help lessen their suffering. That is where religion steps in, and may provide 'temporary' relief by perpetuating the myth of a deity.
But as I have tried to explain above, this extension of the myth comes at a great cost. And we must re-evaluate how perpetuating the myths may be causing great suffering to the lives of other conscious beings. Humans and non-humans. Next,
This is a long conversation. But religion is basically a collection of stories. Throughout history, the elites may have engineered certain outcomes. Religion does make governance somewhat easier.
I am not saying that the elite today are further perpetuating the myths to their convenience. The elites are comprised of a diverse group of individuals from different segments and backgrounds. Since the time of the Medicis and Pope Leo X (One of the first humanists in the ranks of the Church) much progress has been made. But much work remains.
The human condition has many wonderful and beautiful parts. But also some painful parts. The painful parts are *not*, I repeat, not the fault of religion alone. There is a need for re-designing every facet of our condition and our society.
As this process continues, the need is very clear. It is not, I repeat, it is not create conditions through which religious practices are banned. In order to have diversity of thought, which is extremely important, it is also important to have mechanisms through which religions beliefs can be practiced. It is to be determined, what level of absurdity will be tolerated in the real world. The making of this comment is not to suggest that the wider subset of society should discriminate against and categorize all religious practices as absurd.
But at this point in time, almost religious practices seem very absurd to me. Even attempts to make a religion out of the process of technological singularity seems absurd. I understand that there is a high degree of probability that something like the technological singularity will occur. And even if I, as an individual had the option of merging my consciousness with a much advanced AGI. Note: It is very important that I be given that option. Without optogenetics, or some other advanced technology influencing my decision making. And if I were to choose, that I will merge portions of my consciousness with a higher form of consciousness (in a future sense and when it does emerge). Then, that act, does not equate to its reference to some sort of a religious practice.
Here, we are not saying that something like that will absolutely occur. That one is convinced that something like that will happen. That we are discriminating against those who do not believe. But rather, we are saying, this is where technology is going and nothing has been able to put a dent in this phenomenon. And some very intelligent individuals, all the way from Von Neumann to Kurzweil and others are suggesting that something like this could happen. So, what the individuals are saying is that we should prepare for something like this to occur. That it is important to anticipate what is going to occur and work on ensuring that we do this right. Because, and again, this is where technology is going. And there is no way that we can continue our affairs as a human species without our inherent need and dependence on technological progress. The only way to move is to move forward and find ways of how best to merge with our creations. To figure out ways on how to do this as effectively as possible.
So, instead of asking, if we need religion. Instead, we should encourage more individuals and societies to come to the way of science, reason and humanism. Move towards an increasing level of transparency. Beyond the David Brin transparent society. A new kind of society. A society where, how morality is constructed, does not find its underpinnings in theology. For this reason, granting humans their inalienable rights is very important.
Next, and if we do not do that, then this is another reality that we may have to face.
Soon, the religious fundamentalists will have access to advanced technologies. Imagine a much stricter version of the Catholic Church choosing to encourage the mistreatment of transgender individuals. As hypothetical as that reality may be. Or a country with a large Wahhabism following getting their hands on a class of weapons beyond nukes. Or that the rise of religious fundamentalist in one part of the world, brings the world on the brink of WWIII. This happened in Syria last year, when Russia/China/USA were all heavily armed and engaged.
None of the realities must ever occur, as each individual life and the quality of an individuals life is precious. If we cannot enable a reality, through which that guarantee can be had, then we we cannot transcend to the next level of the evolution of our consciousness, either as individuals and/or a species. World war IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
Next, I have tried to understand how religious individuals think. I do suspect that they think differently. As I will share, during my early teens I tinkered with the idea of a deity. Religious people who are resolute, are absolutely sure that one specific set of outcomes will occur. This is contradictory to the nature of reality that is emerging, whereby many different realities are possible.
Next, data suggests that the western world is becoming increasingly irreligious. Nordic countries, England, Australia, New Zealand, Western Europe, Canada. United States has been an anomaly, but the nones represent a 20% increase over the previous decades. Even places like Iraq are seeing a huge increase in the number of individuals who do not believe in a higher power.
As societies become more connected, as they have access to more knowledge. Increasingly individuals are able to seek answers to questions and as they deem fit.
And as that occurs, religions are going to into crisis mode. The numbers of believers will fall. Donations will shrink. Increasingly, individuals will stop seeking and turning to religion for answers. Because a personal assistant will be able to bring back a near perfect answer that will make perfect rational sense.
As a last ditch effort, some religions will resort to fear tactics. Perhaps they will even resort to desperate measures in order to create very bad conditions.
Here, already there is a certain level of transparency in the human construct. Individuals, all individuals thinking about doing bad things must be beware, potentially speaking all of your actions are getting tracked. Justice will come and it will be swift and your actions will be judged upon by all.
Next, and on the positive side of things. We are heading towards a world of abundance. This is a fact.As we continue heading towards a world of abundance, unnecessary suffering will invariably lessen and significantly at that.
Our leaders are right in assessing the future in respect to a reality, whereby we will have the potential to meet the needs of every man, women and child. This will occur in stages over the next two to three decades.
There will be no have not. There will be haves and super have. After 3 decades and with the introduction of nanotechnology, everyone will be in the super-haves class.
Humans will no longer have to sell their so called soul in order to put food on the table or keep a roof on top of their heads. Vice industries will dry out. Constructs will emerge in order to drive experiences, without the negative and harmful effects. Here, in an Iain Banks sense.
The currency of the future is social impact. Meaning, not how many twitter followers you have, but how many lives did you help improve? And those lives improve will attest that their lives were improved and by what margin. And if you raised your children in good environments and you were kind to them, you cared for their well-being, then you have your job well. Or if you helped start a project that builds windmills for powering schools in Africa, then you have also done your job. Many such examples.
There will be less of a need for money in the future. Specially as we continue heading towards a zero marginal cost society.
Next, I strongly suspect that half of the world will be irreligious by the year, 2040. And the rest will follow. Meaning: not religious; not practicing a religion and feeling no religious impulses or emotions.
Constructs will exist to experience a set of experiences that humans are not capable of experiencing today. AI will power such experiences.
Today, mistreatment of individuals and discriminating against those who believe in stories is not a good model. No matter how regressive their point of views, their ideologies may seem to a culture. If they break the law or are about to break the law, then justice must be served.
Here, we should create avenues in the physical world and also the virtual world. Where individuals can come and interact with each other. Through many such interactions, 'understanding' will occur. Understanding can only occur if two people can empathize with each other. The alternative is military confrontation and that's not looking so great in the worlds of advanced and automated systems of warfare, in the range of nano/neuro/AI etc.
When I was a child, I was told all of these stories. During my teens I was seriously doubting most of these stories and for them to have ever occurred. During my 20's I engaged in many conversations. My intention was to look at the reality and how it seemed to from a variety of different angles. Looking at the theoretical suppositions (set) from multiple points of views.
A lot of people believe in theology. It does not make it true or accurate. There is no proof of a God. Almost all of the phenomenon occurring across the Universe can be explained in terms of some kind of rational observation, with some kind of a measurement backing up the statement. If it cannot be backed up via some mathematical proof leading up to the possibility, then it does not exist. If the math is leading up to some reality, then we should further entertain the possibility.
There is no God, playing no dice. That is not how gravitational waves are caused. And indeed, there is spooky action at a distance in the realm of Quantum Mechanics.
Since I happened to have grown up in three different cultures, there were other stories that I was engrained with as well. That homosexuality is bad and Jews, Christians and atheists will never accept you as a friend. Increasingly, throughout my 20's after coming to Canada, I decided to check out reality myself. The stories I was engrained with turned out to be completely false. I found wonderful people in all segments of societies. I am glad that I got out of the building and choose to interact with folks from all segments of societies.
I sincerely believe that if only we make the conscious attempt of reaching out to someone. Then that interaction alone will be enough to bring about change on some level. And through many such changes on a smaller scale, understanding can be had across earthly cultures. Only then can we begin our collective journey, when it comes to the exploration of the wider cosmos, as well our own consciousness. And there appears to be a lot to discover in both of these realms.
As humans we should seek to understand ourselves and our surroundings. We should seek to continually find out about our origins, the origins of the cosmos, further our understand of intelligence and what gives rise to this phenomenon. We must exhibit curiosity about ever facet of our universe and seek to better our understanding.
We should continually work on creating a better set of tools and better spaces. For ourselves, our children and their children.
Some of this material has been edited for clarity.