Exchange on the overall effect of religion between Bob Wright and John Horgan

Monday, July 13, 2009

Andrew Sullivan pointed out a bit of interesting exchange here on the subject that you can see below.

I'm inclined to agree with both of them to a certain extent, especially in how most of the time the existence or lack of religion in a person really doesn't have a great deal to do with their overall character as a person. I'm sure most of us have encountered a few people that have either acquired a religion or lost one, and have since claimed to have become a new person as a result of it, but seem oddly similar to their pre-conversion or deconversion and haven't managed to have acquired a new outlook on the world as a result (i.e. a person easily prone to depression is still often depressed, someone previously cheerful is still just as cheerful, etc.).

I also like the focus they place on how having a certain worldview doesn't necessarily mean that this will then work for another person in the same way. There are a lot of stories online about people that have grown up in some pretty cultish families, with a literal interpretation of the Bible (the Earth is 6000 years old) and hatred towards other religions and the non-religious, and have since decided that this worldview they grew up with was bunk and that religion just isn't for them, and that's definitely an improvement. The problem is in attempting to make an overall generalization about one's own experience so something like, say, a person who has grown up in a religious household based on a philosophy espoused by someone like Father George Coyne. If that's the worldview a person has then there really isn't anything to be gained by abandoning it, unless of course one just really doesn't believe in God.

And on the other hand, there are also stories of people that have grown up in gangs, done hard drugs, jail time etc., regret this later on and eventually join a church, become productive members of society and try to make up for their previous life. Once again a vast improvement over the previous state. But this again doesn't really apply to a person that already is a productive member of society, likes to hang out and read books and chill, and just doesn't happen to believe in God. This latter person isn't really in need of the same thing that the previous former gang member did.

Plus, attempting to generalize about a person's personality based solely on their belief or lack of it makes for some pretty ridiculous pairings. That puts Neil DeGrasse Tyson with Stalin and Stephen Colbert with Fred Phelps, and any view of the world that ends up with pairings like this simply isn't worth taking seriously.


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