Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Should Replace Religion?

Here's Daniel Dennett speaking in Montreal last October. He addresses the "problem" of what should replace religion once we get rid of it. You may wonder what "problem" he's referring to. After all, when you visit countries in Europe you don't see a pressing need to come up with some institutions that replace religion.

Here's a list of good things that religion provides according to Dennett: hope, love, beauty, joy, and moral teamwork. These are the things we get from organized religion.

Really? I haven't noticed that these things are missing in the lives of my atheist friends. Nor have I noticed that the people of Denmark or Belgium are loveless, joyless and incapable of moral teamwork. What the heck is he talking about? What he's talking about is the idea that a church is "the place where if you have to go there they have to take you in."
... churches do that very well. They are a safety net of last resort for many people, and not just poor people, ... churches open their doors to these people and they can do a better job at this than government agencies.
He's talking about churches as safety nets and sources of social support. What he's talking about is the (possible) necessity of churches in a country that rejects socialism. He's talking about America but he doesn't admit it.

You can watch the faces of this mostly Canadian audience, as I did, to see how well Dennet's ideas are being received. There's a lot of puzzled looks as you might expect in a country where socialized medicine is a universal right. Why do you need churches for those things that any just society must provide? Why do you need churches when you have publicly funded community centers where you can hang out with your friends and neighbors?

Things go rapidly downhill from that point on (about 12 minutes into the talk). The next part of the talk is about religious music. It includes some truly excruciating atheist gospel songs that the audience is subjected to. (They cut out a large part of that from the video.) The remainder of the talk has very little to do with the necessity of religion.




20 comments :

  1. While having somewhat more sympathy than you do for his main point, I'll agree the music was excruciating. But I never liked Gospel as a style, never mind the lyrical content.

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  2. Here's a list of good things that religion provides according to Dennett: hope, love, beauty, joy, and moral teamwork.

    That was the point I stopped the video in disgust. I realized that nothing good was going to come from such flawed premises.

    AFAIR, major Canadian all weigh in at around 35% non-religious and I'm frankly surprised it's that low since the religious are still unusual curiosities in my social circles. While I and my friends may lack religion, none of us are lacking love, hope or beauty (well, I may not be beautiful but atheism is only partly to blame).

    I'd think that a simple visit to largely secular cities in Canada or Europe would show Dennet that nothing needs to replace religion. When it leaves, life goes on with only a few minor script & decor changes at weddings. I trust people will adapt easily without a philosophy professor to help.

    What's especially glaring is the fact that he's talking in Montreal which over the past 30-odd years has gone from being one of our most religious major cities to one of the most secular. Instead of telling Montreallers how to prepare for a change, he should be asking them how they have already adapted.

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  3. A really disappointing talk. I usually love his interesting lectures, but this was just weird.

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  4. An excuse for everyone to sing - I think that's important, and something I do rather miss.

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  5. Joel says,

    An excuse for everyone to sing - I think that's important, and something I do rather miss.

    What you want is to revive the Hootenanny.

    Religion not required.

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  6. I always liked the cancer analogy - when you cure cancer, do you replace the tumor with another one? Why do we have to replace religion with anything? As you say, everything he says can be found in secular or atheist societies and individuals. Disappointing, to say the least.

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  7. Which plante does dennett live on? Hasn't he heard of the Quiet Recvolution?

    Truti

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  8. Having enjoyed many of Daniel Dennett's other talks, I'm trying to be charitable by wondering if this is some type of experiment that he is conducting in the group behaviour of atheist versus believer.

    We can all have a could laugh at our own expense in a future Dennett talk.

    If I had been there I have to say I would have left at the group sing along moment, this sort of ant farm behaviour makes my skin crawl.

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  9. Let's face it : Darwinism is the new religion of the modern era for many.

    It has a holy book in "The Origin", a prophet and sage whose birthday is celebrated, a god of sorts in "natural selection" and a faith in the goodness of "evolution".

    It is a pseudo-religious doctrine and dogma.

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  10. Reza:

    It is a pseudo-religious doctrine and dogma.

    Not to imply I agree, but all else being equal, the key word here is "pseudo".

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  11. Truti:

    Which plante does dennett live on? Hasn't he heard of the Quiet Recvolution?

    Planet USA; of course he hasn't.

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  12. Reza, it is a slippery slope to claim that Darwinism should replace religion.

    I believe it was the faith in the 'goodness' of evolution that Hitler used as propaganda in World War two - a whole lot of 'goodness' that caused.

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  13. What should replace religion?

    A nice cup of tea and a biscuit, shared with friends. Which is what the more relaxed religions do already.

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  14. Of course you're gonna need something to replace it if religion goes the way of the dodo, because socialism will as well. But that would require an economics lesson and I ain't sure, Larry, that you could keep up. Simply put, there ain't no such thing as a perpetual motion machine. Or, you can't get something for nothing. But come to think of it, once socialism fails, which means society has sort of regressed, religion will make a grand comeback. Oh well.

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  15. DiverCity says,

    Of course you're gonna need something to replace it if religion goes the way of the dodo, because socialism will as well. But that would require an economics lesson and I ain't sure, Larry, that you could keep up.

    Oh, what the heck, give it a try anyway. Even if I'm too stupid to understand I'm sure there are many European readers who will be anxious to learn why socialism is dying.

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  16. Should have inserted a wink regarding the jab on economics. And you also misread me regarding socialism. I said it will fail, not that it is failing currently. Certainly socialism is ascendant in the West. No denying that. However, socialism as it exists in the West requires ever increasing economic output. When the growth engine sputters, as it has recently begun to do, state-provided benefits and services will have to be cut. Will the recipients of those benefits and services take it all in stride? Moreover, there is a finite amount of resources in the world -- only so much to go around. For the last few decades, growth has been based on a Ponzified economic model, to wit, debt piled upon debt, in ALL western economies. My timeline is obviously much longer than what you're considering. Rest assured, western style socialism will tank, and that right hard. What will replace it? I shudder at the possibilities. And Larry, please tell me that you don't take a teleological view of human progress. Please!

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  17. DiverCity:

    However, socialism as it exists in the West requires ever increasing economic output.

    So does EVERY economic model, particularly governing a growing population. What you're forecasting could be said of any economy, not just a socialist one.

    On the other hand, so long as the economy DOES expand, any system properly balanced is sustainable, including a welfare state. The welfare state not only survived the depression, but actually expanded during that time. Why single out socialism as particularly vulnerable, when in fact it's shown its strengths in the West in times of need?

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  18. @Lone Primate,

    But economies won't always expand, nor should they. It's foolhardy to believe otherwise. Indeed, it's downright teleological! All modern economic systems suffer from this Achilles heel. The economic dial-twisting and lever-pushing by, say, central planning committees or central banks merely papers over the normal and healthy cyclical dross-clearing bad (writ, deflationary) times. Central planners and central bankers, however, hate deflation more than anything and seek to limit its effect and duration by piling on ever more debt. But there will be a reckoning -- a rebalancing if you will. Perhaps you believe like most of the economic charlatans and shamans that the Ponzi can go on forever? I don't.

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  19. DiverCity:

    But economies won't always expand

    I'm not saying they do. I'm asking why you see fit to single socialism out as a particularly vulnerable system, especially as you go on to say:

    All modern economic systems suffer from this Achilles heel.

    ...Which is a reiteration of what I said previously.

    There are, of course, imaginative ways around a collapse. Holding debt, particularly foreign debt, is a form of power, and can simply be traded off. The United States, for example, defused the Suez Crisis in the 1950s by essentially threatening to flush the pound down the toilet. This was effectively the moment the US took over from the UK as the definitive Western hegemon. The UK didn't pay off its debt to the US (and Canada) from WWII till Tony Blair was PM.

    Likewise, China now holds literally trillions of US dollars. A Suez-like day may come over, say, the correct constitutional position of Taiwan, or the acquisition of port facilities in the US (such as those recently denied to Arab purchasers), but this time it won't be the US calling the tune. And like the British, a US that's learned what it's like to back down so it can afford bacon for breakfast the next morning may, also like them, spend the next few generations living within well its means and buying its way out of fiscal servitude.

    Keep in mind that if the system contracts, that doesn't necessarily mean it completely fails. It usually just means that someone, somewhere, starts living a whole lot closer to the bone so that everyone else doesn't have to.

    Don't despair; there are solutions. Just not real comfy ones.

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  20. Lone Primate,

    You spoke of all modern economies suffering from the constant need to grow. That is true, but I contend that is only because such growth (and the corollary fear of contraction) is dependent to a great degree upon debt and covert confiscation -- through inflation and massive deficits -- of the future production and wealth of the lower and middle classes to keep the growth (and wealth transference) engine humming.

    I think where we do agree is that "it" doesn't have to be this way. We also agree that there are lean times ahead. I wonder, though, if we could agree that globalistic democratic capitalism has been found wanting.

    But even if we do agree on that I highly suspect that our preferred solutions to these mutually recognized problems are quite different.

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