Daniel Dennett has talked about precisely this.
In particular, the major world religions are particularly good at creating community and support groups. In part, it's because the major world religions have an ideological emphasis on love and compassion. While this often fails when dealing with out-groups, it succeeds in making true communities where people feel emotionally safe.
I say this as an Atheist: as a group, Atheists do many things that are the opposite of what religious communities do. In my experience, I am far more likely to be thrown under the bus in a group of people who announce themselves to be Atheists than, say, at some kind of a Unitarian or Episcopalian meeting. To go by my personal experience and the output of various YouTubers concerning the dramas and dissolution of various Atheist groups, it seems like Atheists spend a lot of time attacking each other and out-groups. In fact, this seems to apply almost universally to any kind of 21st century movement that spreads online and somehow involves politics. Outrage sells easily and goes viral easily. As a result, many 21st century movements, while professing the opposite, have a strong dependence on in-group/out-group hate.
Possibly because in my case the "outraged" aspect of my atheism was mostly a reaction to having religion shoved down my throat at school, and had largely faded by the time we got the Internet. But possibly also because I want nothing to do with identity politics of any stripe and didn't want to make that particular connection.
There's nothing wrong with that on the face of it. However, I find that too many people in the 2nd or 3rd echelon and below are actually motivated by hate and self-promotion. (A minority, but enough to poison the well.) The same goes for most anything involved with identity politics.
Scott often approvingly reblogs things for being interesting and thought-provoking, rather than necessarily agreeing with them, but he does change his mind too. (Which is a good thing.)
It's such a narrow minded approach to problem solving.
On top of the benefits you mentioned, there is a mindful aspect of religion that I'm sure contributes to people's overall feelings of well-being. Everyday it seems there is something new in the news about the benefits of mindfulness.
I personally am not religious myself - but people should keep in mind that the extremists we encounter in the news aren't representative of everyone who is religious. I certainly don't begrudge anyone simply because they are religious.
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.
we are very tribal creatures, and it takes an accretion of theology -- religious or otherwise -- to counter our base impulses
One day I hope we can get over out-group hate, but it seems to just be natural for humans . . .
It seems the word "religion" is even often defined by this behavior, given that the major religions all have very different beliefs. Of the big four (demographically), one believes in many gods, another believes in no God, another in one God, and the other in one God with a Son. Of course there's many differences within each big religion, e.g. Catholism vs. evangelical, Theravada vs. Mahayana. But how is a strict Theravada Buddhist really different to an atheist who practises meditation? Your statement is a tautology, the same as "the major community-creators in the world are particularly good at creating community."
/updated grammar and for clarity
Religious groups have done this famously throughout history at all scales. (from local in-church "drama" all the way up to full on international war)
Edit: removed awkward wording
I guess it's a part of that larger "everyone before us was stupid" thing that seems big now, but I promise, the major names in religious thinking were brilliant. There is something to believing in something greater than what we see, and when you go on atheist forums, they never really seem like enlightened or happy places.
I don't really have a cogent argument here, but this smells like 1950s Utopianism, where everything that went before was considered obsolete, and many of the good parts of culture and our cities were just thrown away in the name of progress.
That's because only dogmatic atheists would frequent those places. I am an atheist / agnostic, and have been my entire life, but I've never understood why I would seek out community with others over a shared non-belief. So what if we both don't believe in some particular thing? That's no basis for a connection at all. I also got over the need to let others know about being an atheist in about 6th grade.
You mean ateeists?
Perhaps I misread you, but it almost seems as if you are suggesting that this brilliance cannot be accessed by secular minds.
a. Even if you don't believe, don't look down your nose by default at believers
b. I agree - something people should strive for
c. The kneejerk reactions (you can see some of them in this thread) to look down on believers makes me sad. The smartest 3 people I know came to be deeply religious from atheism at 30+.
First of all, correlation is not causation. Education does not get you to secularism, but secular societies happen to be more educated. And gaining by reading and studying religious texts does not imply believing in them. You can consider them beautiful and worth preserving and at the same time believe they do not explain reality or contain many (original) insights.
Researcher Gregory S. Paul suggests that economic development has a closer relationship with religiosity. He argues that once any "nation's population becomes prosperous and secure, for example through economic security and universal health care, much of the population loses interest in seeking the aid and protection of supernatural entities." Other studies have shown that increased wealth is correlated with a decline in religious beliefs. Indeed, the majority of the nations that showed a strong relationship between low religiosity and high IQ in the 2008 study were developed nations.
>I see this opinion a lot, and it bothers me.
This is not an opinion, it is a statement of fact. And quite honestly, there's a big difference between reading religious texts and extracting philosophical value, and actually believing in magic sky fairies or some such. Regardless of the value of any particular incidental trappings of religion, the fundamental defining feature is the belief in some form of nonsense. Otherwise it's merely "philosophy".
OTOH, if you go to forums consisting of people united by a common purpose which is neither religious not the mere absence of religion, you'll find enlightened and happy atheist contributor in many of those enlightened and happy forums.
Your view of atheism seems as warped as the view of religion you complain about.
as texts and philosophy, yes, as works of fiction-unless-evidenced-otherwise, as literature that chronicles a staggering amount of human history, large-scale social organization, belief and gullibility and "leaps of faith", the search for meaning, and so on.
They are very useful as books.
With religion, we're losing rituals where people come together frequently to celebrate life milestones and our relationships - baptism, brisses, confirmation, etc. We also lose a third space and a community of people we don't just happen to work with and live near. A huge part of our social lives, historically, happened in and around religion.
Most of those rituals have nothing to do with religion and are still being performed. To realize that the ritual of baptism does not calm any 'gods' not grant you their favors, and that some drops of water do not exclude you from an eternity of ("made up") torture and suffering, seems to me to be a good thing. People are abandoning them because when you take all the parts they can no longer believe in there is nothing left. They keep what is useful to them.
> We also lose a third space and a community of people we don't just happen to work with and live near. A huge part of our social lives, historically, happened in and around religion.
People used to socialize in caves, then in temples, then in churches. Now in coffee shops and the gym. And Facebook. Who knows what's to come. Things change.
It's possible to have this kind of community and third-space outside of religion; really any community of common interest can work, though the milestones may be different (though things like childbirth, marriage, etc., are pretty common.)
Heck, I am religious, and I have an important community of this type through ballroom dance.
> A huge part of our social lives, historically, happened in and around religion.
Sure. But if the religious content itself isn't important, there's no reason you can't have other centers of social life that provide the same thing without the religious content. Forming social groups is something humans are pretty strongly oriented to doing.
It's a fact when you look at the data. Whether you think more education leading to secularization is good or bad is not the point.
However I think you're setting up secularization as a straw man based on your experience with the most militant American atheists on "forums." These are people who have an axe to grind after being oppressed by hyper evangelical or hyper strict catholic communities growing up. For example try growing up gay in one of those communities and see how cozy you feel toward religion aftwerward.
If you've ever traveled to the Nordic countries, you'd know that a majority of their populations still identify as belonging to the church for cultural reasons. Take Norway for example, an overwhelming majority don't believe in an actual diety, however they still identify as members of the church because they see and respect the cultural/tradition value in it. Which I see as a completely sensible way to deal with religion in modern life.
The two aren't mutually exclusive. That said, the vast majority of Nordic people have never had to deal with the oppression that tends to come from hyper religious people, thus no axe to grind.
With birth rates falling in European countries, the world is getting more religious, not less.
How many atheists do you know that have six kids?
One of my favorite sermons in recent memory is quite related to this topic: it was about "rootedness in community" in the context of SF, and talks about how most people in SF come with a miner's mentality (come here for material gain, extract as much value as possible, then move on), whereas the pastor challenges us to consider a farmer's mentality (invest in the land, care for it in the long run, treat it like a home for the long run - of course, big agra is probably more like mining at this point but you get the point!). highly worth anyone in SF checking the talk out here: http://realitysf.com/sermon/slow-church-we-value-rootedness/
some choice quotes he uses in the sermon that I really loved (admittedly a little romantic, but I think carry some good insight):
"the 20th century will be remembered as an age of wondrous creativity, when Americans voluntarily shattered their lives into distant and dissonant fragments. America's industries learned how to assemble atomic bombs, airplanes, iPads and the genetic codes of life itself in the same era that American society disassembled the ancient overlap of family, food, faith and the field of work. Americans reached for the stars as they withered their roots, inhabited space but lost any sense of place." (David Janzen)
"The failure of the urban promise: That promise concerned human person who could lead detached, unrooted lives of endless choice and no commitment. It was glamorized around the virtues of mobility and anonymity that seemed so full of promise for freedom and self-actualization. But it has failed...It is now clear that sense of place is a human hunger that urban promise has not met...It is rootlessness and not meaninglessness that characterizes the current crisis" (Walter Brueggerman)
[full disclosure: I'm a member!]
The world would be a very hard place if we couldn't just suddenly decide that our description of the universe didn't actually need to make sense, and isn't relevant anyway, "because <deity/concept/idea of some relevance>".
Well, it just seems naive and reactive, to me, when I encounter the viewpoint that its all crap and must die.
Its a very common thought.
Most of the really strident atheists and anti-theists grew up in very oppressive religious environments. The parenting of American evangelicals in particular can get pretty horrifying - not to say that it always does, but it can.
It's easy to say that these atheists are going overboard, but bear in mind that often they grew up in the worst of the worst. I used to be like you and not understand why they were so loud about it, but then I realized that was partially because I've always been non-religious (my parents just didn't care) and I have not had their experience.
I still don't think they're right-- my own attitude toward religion, which I think is the "most correct" one for an atheist to take, is total disinterest and not even taking any negative view-- but I see how they got there.
You know, like software; i.e. an expression of the infinite principle.
So most of the hassle is just cultural, in my opinion, and if religion is killed, culture will be next, i.e. literature, i.e. the idea beyond the horizon, a sunset on the human mind and imagine and desire to conquer the universe, infinite and finite and all the space between.
Arguably the definition of "oppressed" has shifted these days. The vast majority of these "oppressive religious" upbringings that supposedly turned someone atheist rarely sound like Frederick Douglass' autobiography and sound more like a lot of angsty venting over some over-protective parents.
At least for Christian households, Paul writes about this to parents in Colossians -- "Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged." -- but the blame for creating a strident atheist is generally on both sides of the relationship. It's firstly on parents for being overbearing, but also on the adult children who fail to forgive and honor their parents as they mature...
The ironic thing is that the atheists who are unable to forgive and are still deeply resentful/angry about their oppressive religious upbringing are the ones who are still chained to the very thing from which they wanted to be free. Not that I wish anyone would be free from truly understanding the gospel of grace, but simply a matter of fact.
There's just too much that we simply don't know about ourselves and the universe. To assume that either we will eventually understand it all or that as we learn more we won't find something vaguely religious is arrogant and short-sighted.
Eradication of religion is a dumb goal. There are many things people are "religious" about, and there's plenty to fight over other than gods. Religion has and will continue to be a very important part of giving people purpose and creating community.
The goal should not be to eradicate that but to bring out the best parts.
I am fine if religious people don't indoctrinate their children. Don't kill their curiosity of the world with lies.
But atleast the answer isn't - "It's written in a 2000 year old book that a lot of people believe is true. If you question it we will physically beat you and socially humiliate you".
The irony is quite amazing.
Really? I would have assumed Quebec would be more religious than the rest of Canada. Catholicism sunk its roots deep there.
Now, the more nationalistic/sovereignist parties try to pass laws that push secularism in every way .
Mark Twain famously said of Montreal, "This is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn't throw a brick without breaking a church window." 
Religion isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Actually, those are just indirect abstract of fear|hope|unawareness. Basically those human weaknesses. So I think Religion will exist forever.
There might be other reasons to privilege religions and faith over other epistemologies, but seniority isn't one of them.
The class' assignment was to write a paper about what you believe. I wrote a crappy paper about how I didn't believe in an afterlife anymore, on account of my head injury . We all evaluated someone else's paper, and I got a paper from someone who talked about his out-of-body experiences, which I thought was a perfectly reasonable proposition, as I'd recently learned about "mental imagery" (this was before 'aphantasia'  was a term)...
Modern science was founded on the predication that "everything in the universe can be explained in terms of matter." This was circa-1845. The predication would have been more useful if those early scientists thought in terms of 'energy', but we're still stuck with their mistake.
Interesting story btw.
Thermodynamics was useful to design better steam engines, circa-1845.
Thermodynamics is a rigid straitjacket that limits modern astronomers' ability to explain their observations.
> Interesting story btw.
Thanks for this. Someone voted me down right away, then some other users canceled that downvote out. The crowd here is fickle. :)
From the cliff gods that give the bee-hunting Gurung of Nepal the courage to wade into a literal mountain of bees to collect honey, to Vishnu and Shiva who help the Hindu mother and child sleep at night while the father’s fighting for his life in the Intensive Care Unit, to Jesus helping a Christian couple deal with their childless marriage, there is a plethora of gods available for people to adopt and use to derive hope no matter who they are and what their situation is. Because without hope, even those who are otherwise fit to survive, often don’t. Religion is a placebo that has worked extremely well for thousands of years and rest assured it's not going away anytime soon.
The alternative is to live a life of total control but boredom is as potent a killer of men as any other.
A placebo programme that offers several pills of varying shapes, sizes and colors is not less or more real than a placebo programme that offers just one pill of a standard shape, size and color.
(I know, infinite downvotes.)
I don't see how anyone could be atheistic--how can you prove a negative? The modern scientific materialist creed is mighty hubristic--a religion in itself--in asserting there is nothing besides matter--an impossibility to prove.
From this, I take it that you believe we walk around disbelieving your god. "There's no god. Oh look, a tree, that wasn't created by a god. The sky? Not created by a god."
I don't. I put no thought into religious fictions whatsoever, unless they're brought up by others. Right now, unless you're tripping on something, you don't believe there's a little man on the other side of the wall drilling into it with industrial mining equipment so he can get to you and paint your genitals purple. You weren't thinking about it until I mentioned it, you hadn't even considered it until I mentioned it.
That's religious faith to me, right there - something that does not exist until you think about it, and equally unreal as you think about it.
As a Christian, you're required to help people out selflessly to get into Heaven, but since your deeds are selfishly intended to get you into Heaven and avoid your particular god's wrath, you have a small problem.
As an atheist, when I help someone out I do so because I can, because I can make someone's life a little better (or at least less terrible). I've known plenty of Christians who go out of their way to punish people for not being Christian.
In the end, I like to think that asd I breathe my last breath, I'll be able to say "Someone's life was better because I lived."
> The modern scientific materialist creed is mighty hubristic--a religion in itself--in asserting there is
> nothing besides matter--an impossibility to prove.
Science demands verifiable and repeatable proof. If you assert that your god exists, you have to meet a minimum standard of evidence. Remove that standard of evidence, and all claims become viable, from "I have a system that will let me win whenever I gamble!" through to the little man on the other side of your wall. If he didn't exist, you wouldn't hear noise from that side of that wall, now would you?
this modern society thinking.. seems like a religion in itself
Now, that's just the surface of religion. Religions are directly associated with systematic problems in society. Child molesters en masse hiding behind the Vatican to continue molesting. The process of belief being pretty well catalogued as addictive and mentally damaging. Has the "Days since last jihadist attack in Europe" counter risen above 7 this year? Are there any religions that don't suffer from all of the symptoms of groupthink?
I don't know exactly what you mean by "modern society thinking" because it's somewhat vague - but I think your sentiment is right. What we don't need is a movement towards ending religion or endless propaganda telling everyone to get with the times and abandon religion. Just some critical thinking.
any set of values, that you have to stick to, to be part of the 'group' .. is very much a religion .. or religion-like, if we limit the term religion to only sets or values/rules that link themselves to God or a divine force
i think religion as in, set of guidelines to have or that describe a relationship with God .. doesn't necessarily contradict with progress .. or modernism