Sunday, June 20, 2010

Religion and Happiness


[Karl Marx, 19th century German economist]

It’s interesting to note that even the greatest skeptics seem to agree that religion does have the capacity to make people happy. Karl Marx famously commented that “Religion is the opium of the people.” One of my fellow bloggers heads his blog with the title “Ignorance is Bliss”, meaning that ignorance of the alleged scientific proof against religion is blissful. Scientific studies tend to support this conclusion.

In addition to this, anthropologists tell us that religion is universal in human societies. Children are apparently born with a natural instinct for belief. The question is, why? After all, animals, from goldfish to mice, cows, dolphins and gorillas seem to manage very well without it.

Harvard psychology professor Dr. Steven Pinker has taken a stab at answering this from an atheistic point of view, however he admits that the question is “a genuine scientific puzzle”.

In my humble opinion, there is only one reasonable answer. God created us for the purpose of recognizing Him and therefore He created within us a natural desire for religion. See for example the Ramban’s commentary to Exodus 13:16 toward the end of his comments.

31 comments:

Philo said...

While whether the "God gene" exists, is a fascinating question in of itself, but has nothing to do with the dogmas of organized religion.

Christopher Hitchens in "god is not Great" points out that Karl Marx is "quote-mined" by the "religion is the opium of the people" quote.

jewish philosopher said...

I don't believe that I am removing the passage from its surrounding matter in such a way as to distort its intended meaning.

Philo said...

No, in general the quotation "Religion is the opium of the people" is misquoted. If I remember it correctly, it is either a linking sentence of a new paragraph, or in the end of a paragraph. I have almost all of Marx's works (this does not mean all atheists and agnostics do!), I'll look it up when I have time.

jewish philosopher said...

You can just click on my link.

Marx of course is not praising religion, however he apparently agreed that it does provide some feeling of euphoria.

Philo said...

Okay I followed back on your source (I don't happen to have his book Hegel. Since I don't understand Hegel, I don't want to feel jealous of Marx, so I will stay away)

Here is the paragraph in it's entirety.

"For Germany, the criticism of religion has been essentially completed, and the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism.

The profane existence of error is compromised as soon as its heavenly oratio pro aris et focis [“speech for the altars and hearths,” i.e., for God and country] has been refuted. Man, who has found only the reflection of himself in the fantastic reality of heaven, where he sought a superman, will no longer feel disposed to find the mere appearance of himself, the non-man [Unmensch], where he seeks and must seek his true reality.

The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."


There is a whole new world of meaning when put into context.

jewish philosopher said...

It must be losing a bit in the translation. I'm not following that too well.

Anonymous said...

" Children are apparently born with a natural instinct for belief. The question is, why? "

Do you want to use human instinct as a proof of intelligent causation? OK.
We have natural instinct of aggression.
We have the natural instinct to steal and have envy.
We have the natural instint to shtup anything in a skirt.

These are universal in all societies.

How do use that information to prove or disprove god? Why would god instill us with those things?

Indeed, to paraphrase Steve Pinker, this would be a genuine religious puzzle.

jewish philosopher said...

Every human instinct is positive in the appropriate time and place.

If we possessed no aggressiveness, we would be eaten by wild animals. If we had no interest in material things, the world would remain a wasteland. If men had no attraction to women, I believe OBGYNs would be unemployed.

What's interesting is that many animals have those same instincts. Only man has a religious instinct. Probably the only two things which distinguish us from animals are speech and religion.

Anonymous said...

What exactly is the evolutionary explanation for the origin of religion?

The Bray of Fundie said...

opium while promoting euphoria reduces tolerance of the slightest pain and is very deleterious to the health of the opium addict.

I think a truer metaphor is that "Religion is the oxygen of the people."

רוח אפנו משיח ה'

Anonymous said...

"What exactly is the evolutionary explanation for the origin of religion?"

As JP correctly said, we don't know for sure, we can only theorize.

One plausible explanation is that religion, like nations, give people a core set of common beliefs to bond society together and help govern their behavior.

[Note the all religions concentrate on communities, rather than just an isolated "believing" individual.]

Another is that it helps the individual cope with uncertainty, vulnerability and mortality. (An animal is not consciously aware of its mortality)

Others say its a spandrel- a byproduct of the thinking ability of our large brain, particularly its strong need to determine cause and effect and meaning, even if its blatantly wrong.

A good parallel example of this is homeopathic medicine, which has been proven as no more than a placebo and is also completely illogical. Its based on the idea that the less "active" substance there is in the medicine, the more potent. By this logic taking no medicine would be an overdose!

Yet, millions of people worldwide believe in its effectiveness and economically support a big industry.

Why do people do this? We seem to be hard coded to find explanations for things, even when the explanation is illogical and when facts show otherwise.

jewish philosopher said...

What's interesting however is that according to atheism, nature should select for atheism (which is true and therefore more efficient and more likely to replicate) and against theism (which involves a waste of precious resources on nonsense). Instead, exactly the opposite has happened.

Apparently, God, not evolution, created us.

Anonymous said...

"What's interesting however is that according to atheism, nature should select for atheism (which is true and therefore more efficient and more likely to replicate."

Who says that? Do you know any basic psychology? Truth is not always adaptive.

For example, denial can sometimes be an adaptive mechanism. Its a classic defense. Also, high self-esteem is not always reflective of reality, but helps the individual.

NoLiveGod said...

"It’s interesting to note that even the greatest skeptics seem to agree that religion does have the capacity to make people happy."

It also has the capacity to make people miserable, to make them feel guilty about behavior that's perfectly normal and reasonable, and to identify some people as inferior and some as superior.

So a few self-interested folks claim their religion (usually Christianity or Islam, rarely Judaism) makes them happy. Big deal.

I used to love going to synagogue with my family. My father had a wonderful singing voice and the temple was old and lovely. I suspect that many people are "happy" through religion because it helps them engage with happy memories. On the other hand, people like you are "happy" with Judaism because it allows you to strike against your psychological demons.

jewish philosopher said...

"Truth is not always adaptive."

Which lies would you advise people to teach their children? Of course truth is always preferable.

"So a few self-interested folks claim their religion (usually Christianity or Islam, rarely Judaism) makes them happy."

Actually there is a little more to it than that.

Here is a quote from the biography of the well known Nobel prize winning physicist, and atheist, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar:

“I don’t really have a sense of fulfillment. It does not seem to me that the pursuit of science results in feelings of contentment or peace. Would faith and simple beliefs bring inner peace and harmony? I’m not sure. However there is a marvelous story by Balzac called ‘The Atheist’. In this story, an atheistic doctor is seen attending church services twice a year with great devotion. Someone asks him why. He explains that he does it out of respect for a simple water carrier who was a pious man who had helped him when he was young. He, the doctor, wishes that he had the faith of that water carrier. Likewise, for myself, religion cannot save me because I don’t have faith.” [This has been slightly paraphrased for the sake of brevity and clarity.]

Chandra: A Biography of S. Chandrasekhar by Kameshwar C. Wali page 305

Anonymous said...

"Which lies would you advise people to teach their children?"

Its not about lies but about self deception.

jewish philosopher said...

Which deceptions should be added to school curricula to enhance students' replication?

Anonymous said...

More problems for evolution:

http://www.theonion.com/articles/eons-of-darwinian-evolution-somehow-produce-mitch,17635/

Anonymous said...

NLG:

Why did religion evolve if it serves no purpose?

According to the book "Who Really Cares" religious people give more money to charity in total, per capita, and as a percentage of income than secular people. Relifion encourages people to behave in a non-Darwinian fashion. How did it evovle?

And why do people from non-religious backgrounds become religious if it all religion does is make people happpier by connecting them to happy memories. Why are there Baalei Teshuva? Why is religion growing rapidly in Communist China and the former Soviet Union, both places that actively repressed religion.

NoLiveGod said...

"Why did religion evolve if it serves no purpose?"

First of all, I'm sure you noticed that religion is not a genetic trait of people, so we're not talking about evolution as common descent.

Second of all, evolution doesn't work by "purpose." You are confused about evolution in this regard.

Third of all, as you point out later in your same message religion serves several social functions, notably social cohesion and conformity.

Fourth, we were talking about happiness, not charitable donations.

Fifth, religions have evolved to be highly effective money grabbers. They are great at asking people for money and shaming people into doing it. I suspect that if religious people give more money to non-profit causes like the synagogues that squat for free on the public dime, it's because the religious are asked more. After all, there's no sucker like a repeat sucker.

Anonymous said...

If all we are is products of evolution, then all our behaviors are products of evolution, too. So religion has to be explained in evolutionary terms.

And what I meant by purpose is that it confers a survival benefit.

Chimps don't need religion for social cohension, so why do humans?

And religiosu people donate more to non-religious charities, such as medical research as well. And they donate blood more often, and volunteer their time as well. All very un-Darwinian.

GodAwful said...

"And religiosu people donate more to non-religious charities, such as medical research as well. And they donate blood more often, and volunteer their time as well. All very un-Darwinian."

And this is supposed to prove what?

Anonymous said...

This is to prove that morality and religion cannot be explained in Darwinian terms. If it isn't Darwin then that leaves G-D.

GodAwful said...

"This is to prove that morality and religion cannot be explained in Darwinian terms. If it isn't Darwin then that leaves G-D."

Why ascribe it to god? It could be yet to be discovered non- Darwinian evolution? Besides, if it is indeed god, there is no assurance that its your god with all his/her irrational statutes and rituals. In fact, I would posit that it couldn't be your god, because no super creator would burden anyone with all that absurdity. Who knows, it might be the christian, muslim or Cherokee Indian god? Oh, I forgot. It has to be the torah god because you're convinced that the torah is the ultimate truth, blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah. Fortunately, your empty platitudes are proof of nothing, other than your deep conviction that it is proof everything.

Anonymous said...

So we have to choose between G-d did it and "we don't know?". I know that if a studetn writes "I don't know" on a test I give them zero credit. So it would be hypocritical of me to use that answer.

And what basis do you have for saying the Torah is irrational beyond your own intuition. YOuung children and the insane would think you are irrational.

And the Christian G-d is the Jewish G-d. We just differ as to whether he had a son, etc. Same thing with the Muslim G-d. I don't knwo about the Cherokee god.

And I believe in the Torah because of the Kuzari, because it seems to work so well, the Mesorah, etc.

GodAwful said...

"So we have to choose between G-d did it and "we don't know?". I know that if a studetn writes "I don't know" on a test I give them zero credit. So it would be hypocritical of me to use that answer."
Your comparison is faulty. You don't have to choose anything because this is not a test. There is nothing to fail. Its simply a matter of proof and you have absolutely none for god's existence.


"And what basis do you have for saying the Torah is irrational beyond your own intuition. YOuung children and the insane would think you are irrational."
Perhaps, but that's because they are young children who do not yet have the capacity to make informed decisions. And of course insanity is a condition that precludes sound judgement.
Its not intuition that discredits most torah statutes and rituals. Its those irrational precepts themselves, regardless of their source that are disparageable. For example, in the absence of a halachic prohibition on shatnez you would say that it would be irrational not to wear a garment composed of wool and linen. Relying on a torah imprimatur does not make the action less irrational.

"And the Christian G-d is the Jewish G-d. We just differ as to whether he had a son, etc."
We were evaluating irrational statutes and rituals. In that respect, Christianity has undergone a positive reformation and has abandoned most halachic irrationality. Orthodox Judaism needs a similar catharsis.

"And I believe in the Torah because of the Kuzari, because it seems to work so well, the
Mesorah, etc."
See the following for a thorough debunking of the Kuzari hypothesis
.
http://larrytanner.blogspot.com/2010/04/kuzari-principle-sinai-argument.html
http://www.martincwiner.com/enough-with-the-crazy-kuzari-proof/

jewish philosopher said...

I personally support the Sinai tradition because first of all, I have yet to hear a plausible, detailed atheistic explanation for the origin of Judaism. The idea that Mount Sinai was a volcanic eruption seems unlikely since there are no volcanoes in the Sinai. Besides that, volcanoes erupt frequently and always have without anyone thinking that it's God appearing. Also this still leaves the ten plagues and manna from heaven unexplained.

Secondly, I see no reason to reject the Sinai tradition. Since life was obviously created by an intelligent designer, it's seems reasonable that he would at some point have publicly revealed himself.

Imagine a murder investigation. John Doe confesses to murdering his wife Jane Doe. He had a motive (life insurance death benefit). He had access to her and to a murder weapon. Furthermore, there is no other plausible suspect.

I think that a prosecutor would not have a hard time convicting John Doe. Even if forensic evidence was absent (for example the crime happened some time ago) and there are no witnesses, I would doubt that many investigators would argue "But maybe someone else did it. Who knows? Anything is possible."

GodAwful said...

"The idea that Mount Sinai was a volcanic eruption seems unlikely since there are no volcanoes in the Sinai."

True, but a massive catastrophic volcanic explosion or even a meteor 500 miles away could have caused similar biblical incidents. We have documentation of massive faraway eruptions causing nearby catastrophes. No need to import god into naturaly occuring scenario.

"Also this still leaves the ten plagues and manna from heaven unexplained."
The plagues never were god inspired, thus there is no need for any supernatural explainations, if they ocurred at all. As for manna, it is a naturaly occuring food:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/09/dining/09manna.html

There are many plausible explainations for the mythical events in the torah:
http://www.slate.com/id/2215127
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/1686422/posts

That you choose to invest them with a beyond- a-reasonable doubt authentication is in itself irrational credulity.
As I said, I would posit that it couldn't be your god, because no super creator would burden anyone with all those irrational statutes and rituals.

jewish philosopher said...

Have you ever actually read the first half of the book of Exodus? For all those miracles to have occurred as a result of the Santorini eruption is ridiculous. Bear in mind also that the natural disasters caused by Santorini would have probably been most devastating to the poor slave class, especially if they lived in Goshen which is near the Mediterranean sea shore. Rather than having been liberated, their poor little huts would have been obliterated.

http://bibleatlas.org/full/goshen.htm

I have refuted here the theory about drugs causing the Sinai revelation.

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2008/03/mind-blowing-torah.html

"I would posit that it couldn't be your god, because no super creator would burden anyone with all those irrational statutes and rituals."

That's simply an argument from personal incredulity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance#Argument_from_personal_incredulity

The article about manna is just talking about different foods called "manna". In reality, no one in the Sinai desert is able to live from some sort of sap alone.

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Anonymous said...

NLG:

The point is that the answer "we don't know" is not an answer. So either we live without an answer, or we say "God did it."

You still didn't tell me what your basis for saying the Torah statutes are irrational.

And if the Torah is not from Sinai, then someone went to the entire Jewish nation and said "You have to accept ths book as you're authentic history because G-d revealed himself to your grandfather." and nobody said, "If that is true why didn't my granfather tell me."

And I provided other reasons on my list.

And if you can say that your instinct tells you that the Torah is irrational, (I don't see anything else) then I can say that my instict tells me it is true.