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This is an intetesting take on religion.
confidentrealm 7 June 22

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Only a minority, somewhere less than 20% need religion. Countries that have left religion behind have shifted towards non-belief fairly quickly, not unlike the overturning of LBGT bias. The US is getting much closer to this tipping point.

Arts, science and wisdom and philosophy are available to replace religion. They can do so very effectively without the religious inculcation of xenophobia, nonsense, hatred and anti-intellectualism. This is especially true when religion is weakened and ineffective in its denunciation or perversion of education. Which is to say that when religion is so weakened, rational and meaningful support can be better developed and disseminated.


Yes, interesting. I like the line: “The solution to religion is to remove the need that created it.”

Is the solution to improve our humanity, to the degree that religion is no longer needed? Can we get to a point where we can rely on each other, with faith in our own strengths, cooperation, reason, compassion, collective wisdom, and trust in our fellow humans, toward a feeling of safety and security in that we are all doing the best we can and we all want better for everyone?

Isn't that is a better goal than reverting back to the false safety net of religion? Perhaps the answer to that is the underlying goal of humanism?

Before we can “remove the need that created it” we have to know what that need is, and I’m not sure we know precisely what that is yet. Dr. Wolff is an economist, so naturally he sees things in terms of economic forces. And he’s a Marxian economist, so he tends to focus on the ills of capitalism.

I suspect religion is more deeply woven into our biological/cultural essence than at a solely economic level. It may be an artificial safety net, in that it may be more cultural than biological, but I wouldn’t call it false, because it may well play a major role in enabling us to function beyond hunter-gatherer levels of societal sophistication.

Affluent societies that appear less religious on the surface have changed the labeling on some of their behaviors to make them appear fashionably secular, but still rely on religion-sourced practices such as meditation and yoga in order to cope with the unnatural stresses of living and cooperating with large groups of strangers.

We have survived by artificial means now for over ten thousand years, and in that time we have become a soft, domesticated species. I doubt we could survive the loss of our artificiality now.

@skado I disagree that we couldn't survive as a species without an artificial religion guiding us. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding your comment.

Whether one calls the feeling of a safety net that religion provides false, artificial or mythical, I consider it to be more of a placebo, rather than real support society could be providing. I don't think our society is better off with supernatural religious ideas.

The spiritual needs of our society are no longer being fed as robustly by faith in the supernatural as in previous times. Many of the beliefs are challenged by our growing intellectual knowledge in our modern society.

Going backward can never be the answer, but we can try (and possibly fail with) real methods of addressing the concerns of society, instead of reliance on faith in a supernatural deity.

Seems to me, governments use the supernatural (artificial, false or mythical) deity as a puppet for the ruling powers, fueled by greed, to enrich the rich and keep the poor down. I'm not an economist, but my impression is that religion favors capitalism. I see nothing wrong with the poor folks figuring this out and rising up. I feel that would be a good thing. Again, I don't claim to know anything about economics, but was primarily speaking to emotional spirituality and strength.

I’m optimistic that by addressing the social needs in a real manner, economically or otherwise, the reliance on mythical spiritual strength will be lessened, and people can switch from faith in the supernatural to faith in community and their fellow humans, and themselves. Just my feeling. That’s not to say meditation, community social support and other practices of religion can’t be a part of a more humanistic spiritual life.

I don’t think you’re misunderstanding my comment, but I do think we make different assumptions about exactly what constitutes “religion.” And that’s my fault, not yours. I hold an opinion about the nature of religion that is at odds with the popular view that religion is defined by a belief in the supernatural. Otherwise I agree with most of what you’re saying.

I tend to relate belief in the supernatural more with absence of education than with presence of religious practice. E. O. Wilson said something along the lines of ‘We are a conflicted species, and our survival depends on it.’ I may have quoted imprecisely, but that’s the gist of it. My guess is, we are conflicted in more ways than one, but our invention of agriculture some ten to twelve thousand years ago was a giant step away from our ancestral environment, and toward a truly artificial way of living.

You can’t fool Mother Nature, but you can devise workarounds. Our biology is that of a Pleistocene hunter-gatherer, but we’re living in conditions that are wholly unnatural to that biological inheritance. Homo sapiens makes up the difference by adjusting culture.

I think religion is better defined as a cultural counterbalance to the evolutionary mismatch caused by the civilizing of a nomadic species. Superstition worked pretty well as a servant of that purpose as long as we were ignorant, but another invention of ours, the internet, is again removing us even further from our natural state. We no longer have the luxury of ignorance but we are still in need, arguably more-so, of a cultural (artificial) counterbalance.

The place that religion holds in this picture, before the loss of ignorance as well as after, is that of a practice, rather than a belief. We must practice the skills of not murdering each other like a multitude of heathens crammed into a confining space (which is very much our ‘natural’ disposition under those circumstances) or we will do exactly that.

We have a choice. We could go feral (but we would never choose that voluntarily) or we can maintain a cultural practice that trains our hunter-gatherer instincts away from xenophobia and toward an unnatural embrace of strangers.

Not only can this be done without a belief in things that aren’t real, but I am confident that an awareness of objective truth is actually an ally in this project. What we are biologically unequipped to do is live in close proximity to an overwhelming majority of strangers, without a cultural corrective. And I suspect most of us modern humans would perish if we tried going feral.

We may be able to survive without belief but very unlikely to without practice. For as long as organized religions have existed (interestingly about as long as agriculture has existed) only a privileged few had access to the esoteric knowledge that the heart of religion was practice, not belief. I think it’s time for that secret to go public.

@skado Maybe practice in being good humans is a start. And erasing the feeling that others are strangers. The world is getting smaller and smaller with our technology. In time, a change in "practice" and more positive actions will come, hopefully.


I have realized that while genetics / development may have played a part in my Atheism, it was likely my tough childhood that taught me from a very early age that I could not count on anyone to help me and that I had to take care of myself. Later, the hypocrisy of religion, its lack of conformance to the real world, and inconsistencies only added to my growing skepticism.


finding solace in religion has carried people through the most intolerable social and justices in the history of man. knowing that the next life will be better than this one it's a way to control people both morally and economically. a perfect example of this
in Animal Farm the reference is to" Sugar Candy Mountain" this kept the animals working until it was time for the glue factory

m16566 Level 7 June 22, 2019

Religion is not going to go away. What people will do in turn is make up another version of it.


'What would it take us to get beyond that kind of solution to the real needs people have?

That cuts to the heart of the matter. Socialism tried a secular alternative which was disastrous. Sam Harris says socialism wasn't really atheistic; he says it was religious in its psychology. Social democracy is well worth a try. It is a feature of Irish society. Real poverty is controlled well but it doesn't remedy the hole left in the spiritual lives of people. I wonder what it would really take.

Creative Endeavor?....Art, business, sport, skilled trade, hobby,

Here's a skill that almost everyone I encounter can work in: listening and communicating.

I don't think there is any shortage of ways that we can improve and limit Ye Olde Spiritual Hole

@twill It has worked for me. I chose art, literature, culture, that type of thing and I like secular humanism in theory. The trouble, at least in my country, is that these things have little traction so the hole remains unfilled.


98% of people saved by life guards are poor swimmers. This proves beyond doubt that life guards cause poor swimming and we need to eliminate life guards.


I think this is such an important point that Professor Wolff is making. Taking away the drug from an addict without putting in place some support system and providing them with a reason not to go back onto that drug again will fail. The analogy is a good one, if we want to stop people believing in god and using religion as a crutch to lean on ...we can’t just knock away that crutch and expect them to stand on their own two feet without providing them with the mental capacity to deal with life’s problems and enabling them to use community and friendship with other humans instead of feeling the need to pray and go to church because it’s there they think they get the strength to face the vicissitudes of everyday life. They need to believe that we can be in commune with each other as human beings without the need to wrap everything up in religion and tie it with a bow. We can reason and help each other by listening and supporting and encouraging others to seek help and advice. A problem shared is a problem halved is a great’s one we should try to encourage our religious friends to keep in mind as it’s much more effective than praying to a nonexistent entity. A sense of community and belonging is what keeps a lot of people going to church I’m sure, what we have to do is try to show that all humanity is a community, that we are approachable and non-exclusive, we have to be brothers and sisters to all humanity, only then will the need for gods be eliminated.


Yes, although what I would like to see is religious people admitting that they are taking opium for starters. Additionally, there is no need to give this opium to unbroken people (e.g. children).

palex Level 6 June 22, 2019

Many atheists like to point out that there is a clear correlation between poverty on the one side and religion on the other side: the more religious a society is, the poorer it tends to be on average.
Now the common interpretation of this fact is: religion is the cause of that poverty because it is an obstacle to progress. That might be an aspect of the bigger picture, but Prof Wolff points to the other side of the correlation: that religion is a means to cope with real problems, if you take away this "opium" you are just being cruel.
People in Sweden or Germany can afford to be secular; they no longer need the opium

Matias Level 8 June 22, 2019

@Allamanda Did you watch the video? Prof Wolff does not argue that religious beliefs are "sacred" , that they must not be touched. He just points out that religions answer to a real need , and as long as this need persists we have no right to take away the "opium". That jars with the conviction of many atheists that all people would be better off without religion.
Is it ethical to take away the painkiller as long as the pain exists?

@Allamanda I agree with Matias, I think it is a near perfect analogy, and I have given my reason in my own reply if you care to read it.

@Allamanda "substitute reason for religion"- ? - Did it never occur to you that religion provides something that reason simply does not have on offer? No? In this case you do not know religion, the real religious belief, but only the caricature some atheists offer when they disparage it.
Besides, a lot of people have both, religion and reason, to present the two as contradictory is . That is not only simplistic, it is simply wrong.

@Allamanda Who are the “we” who are going to let or not let them get on with it?

In the US anyway a great majority are religious. It would be the tail wagging the dog.

More than 80% of the world population identifies as religious. And the non-religious don't reproduce as fast as the religious.

From 2012:
"Worldwide, more than eight-in-ten people identify with a religious group."

From 2017:
"Although current patterns of religious switching favor the growth of the religiously unaffiliated population –particularly in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand – religious “nones” are projected to decline as a share of the world’s population in the coming decades due to a combination of low fertility and an older age profile."
[] page 19

The premise of this discussion assumes Marx’s remark “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" is a fact beyond doubt, when it is merely his opinion, and an unsubstantiated one at that.


A realistic perspective. Wish I could give it more than one thumb up. 👍👍👍👍


Very interesting. It shows how a statement taken out of context can have an different meaning from what is meant


An excellent point of the context and meaning of a well known quote.

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