Tuesday, January 17, 2006


My cousin responded to a previous entry with the following cogent comments:

Yes, but who is to determine which religious beliefs are true and which are false? If someone truly believes something, however false it may appear to others, isn't that good enough for them? Won't that make them feel better? And isn't that all we really want in life--to feel good about who we are and what we are doing here?I've been watching (in part) that Frontline documentary Country Boys profiling 2 teenage boys over 3 years living in impoverished Kentucky (?). One of the boys is Christian and regularly goes to church and Bible study. In one part, his high school science teacher is talking about Darwin and she says something along the lines of "He thinks we evolved from apes. I think it's ridiculous but you are supposed to make up your own mind." The kid chimes in that he doesn't think evolution makes any more sense than creationism--"We can't explain where God came from and they [scientists] can't explain where molecules first came from."Now, there is a lot of backward thinking going on here (in my opinion) and I see the danger in this kid blindly following along with the teachings of his church. But I also see that because of his involvement with the church, he has been able to lift himself up from a potentially life destroying situation. His mother shot herself when he was quite young. His father killed his step-mother (a stripper) and then shot himself when the kid was 12. He got bounced around a bit and now has some stability living with his step-granmother and going to church.While the beliefs this kid has may be "false" to many people--simply a placebo--it is certainly working for him at this time in his life. Of course, let's see what tonight's conclusion brings. :-)

This is how I replied:

Who is to determine which religious beliefs are true? Well, I am, of course. :-) More seriously, surely a goodly number of religious beliefs are either objectively true or false, whether or not we can definitively determine which. For instance, it is surely objectively true or false that Jesus was born of a virgin, was the unique human incarnation of a Supreme Being who fashioned the universe, that he walked on water, multiplied out of thin air the fishes and loaves to feed the hungry multitudes, brought dead people back to life, and, himself, rose bodily after he died on the cross to atone for our sins and make eternal salvation possible for us. It is surely also objectively true or false that our consciousness survives the death of our bodies to inhabit an eternal place or condition of heavenly bliss or one of terrible torment.

I agree that many are helped in some way or other and to some degree or other by holding false religious beliefs, that we all want to be happy, and that just as placebo pills can promote feelings of physical wellness among those who take them believing that they are genuine medicine, so “placebo” religious beliefs can foster feelings of happiness among those who embrace them with the conviction that they are true. However, I would also maintain that placebos of all kinds can do more harm than good to others and that our society might be better off if the population as a whole rose to a higher level of psychological and spiritual development that left biblical fundamentalism in its wake.

I saw the first installment of that Frontline documentary you mentioned and found it an illuminating look at a region of this country with which I’m not too familiar and at the lives of those who inhabit it. I agree that the fundamentalist religion that prevails there seems to be a mixed bag that, on the one hand, discourages sound thinking and deeper understanding of our world, and, on the other, provides people with a comforting sense of individual and communal purpose and guiding moral structure.

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