Social Question

mattbrowne's avatar

Is organized religion bad?

Asked by mattbrowne (31557points) February 11th, 2012

People who say yes or no, please backup your claim, and try not to rely on anecdotes only, for example by pointing to studies showing that organized religion

1) increases the pain and suffering of individuals and communities
2) increases the well-being of individuals and communities

Here’s an example for #1

A Canadian study about “Internalized homophobia: A factor in depression, anxiety, and suicide in the gay and lesbian population”

Here’s an example for #2

An American study with the “Psychological Inquiry: How does religion benefit health and well-being?”

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43 Answers

Aster's avatar

Religious people tend to report more life satisfaction, and a new study explains why.

It’s not their spirituality, belief in heaven, or even the ritual act of praying or going to a house of worship that leads the pious to happiness. Rather, the study found, it’s the close friends people gain through their religions that makes a difference.

The findings suggest that forging close bonds with people over mutually shared and meaningful interests might boost quality of life for anyone, religious or not. But there’s something about being part of a congregation in particular that seems to build a sense of community and lead to fulfillment for many people.

“My co-author and I have found that religious people tend to volunteer more, care more about their community and do more good in their neighborhoods,” said Chaeyoon Lim, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “All of that can be explained by friendships in the congregation that seem to make people not only happier, but also nicer people and better citizens.”

Aster's avatar

According to study researcher Chaeyoon Lim, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:

“We show that [life satisfaction] is almost entirely about the social aspect of religion, rather than the theological or spiritual aspect of religion,” Lim told LiveScience. “We found that people are more satisfied with their lives when they go to church, because they build a social network within their congregation.”

Aster's avatar

Researchers accidentally discovered that people with religious beliefs tend to be more content in life while studying an unrelated topic. While not the original objective, the recent European study found that religious people are better able to cope with shocks such as losing a loved one or getting laid off of a job.

Professor Andrew Clark, from the Paris School of Economics, and co-author Dr Orsolya Lelkes, from the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research, analyzed the a variety of factors among Catholic and Protestant Christians and found that life satisfaction seems to be higher among the religious population. The authors concluded that religion in general, might act as a “buffer” that protects people from life’s disappointments.

CWOTUS's avatar

Obviously this could be argued either way with decent factual support for both sides. In general, “organized religion” is probably a civilizing, tempering and educating force – a force for good. People socialize in churches and collectively under church auspices do good works all over the world.

On the other hand the Crusades, the Inquisition and the religious wars common in Europe hundreds of years ago argue strongly against “organized religion”, don’t they? Internecine Muslim strife and civil wars, mostly sectarian-based, are another argument against.

But I think we concentrate too much on wars and not enough on quiet civilization, education, and peaceful activity that constitutes most of human civilization.

You’ll never get me to sign up for one again, but on balance I think organized religion is “okay”. Let’s not start talking about “fundamentalist” and “intolerant” religion, which I think is an unmitigated disaster.

I can’t wait to follow this thread. GQ, @mattbrowne.

thorninmud's avatar

It can break good or bad. In that respect, it’s like the field of medicine: medicine as practiced a few centuries ago arguably caused more harm than good. If doctors today insisted on adhering to the same practices, just because that’s what Aristotle prescribed, then I think we could rightly say that medicine is bad, and that we’d be better off without it.

The human body, the underlying reality on which medicine is based, hasn’t changed over those centuries, but practices have evolved to conform to our increasing knowledge and changing environments. Now most see medicine as good—perhaps not an unqualified good, but certainly better than nothing in most cases.

Religion is also supposedly based on eternal truths, but in many cases the practice of religion hasn’t evolved along with our increased understanding of the universe. The result is bound to be problematic.

digitalimpression's avatar

“A Canadian study about “Internalized homophobia: A factor in depression, anxiety, and suicide in the gay and lesbian population”

I’ve found a plethora of studies on this subject. Most of them are blatantly contrived. They are so contrived, in fact, that they aren’t worth reading. They all suggest opposite results to the same type of study. One study shows that homosexuals commit suicide 200% more than their heterosexual counterparts. Another shows that this happens mainly in countries which are tolerant of homosexuality. It seems as if throwing the word “study” onto something is supposed to make it authentic. Not so. Anyway, this was totally beside the point… just got me thinking about it.

[1] – Organised religion only increases pain and suffering if it is used as a manipulative device or by extremists (like on the movie Red State)

[2] – My life without God and the fellowship of Christians was far worse.

But are you only looking for “studies”?

auntydeb's avatar

No, organised religion itself is not bad. It is part of human history and evolution, it is arguable that it is an evolutionary advantage. The late Roy Rappaport wrote about the history of religion and ritual in human history, in his work entitled ‘Ritual and religion in the making of humanity’. This book is an excellent discussion of the evidence for ritual behaviour, labelled as religion, among the earliest human societies. Helping build culture, permitting community activity, enabling tribal groupings etc.

On the down side, well, obviously evolution only favours the survivors and belief is a powerful thing. In a hyper-aware world, religion itself has the same functions, but perhaps not the same necessity. Rappaport died soon after writing his book, so missed the opportunity to see how social networking and global communication would affect the historic and traditional rituals of our ancestors. It’s down to us to make more sense of it all.

cazzie's avatar

Sometimes, destructive dogma dresses itself up in religion and that is never good, I think we can all agree on that without a study. Unfortunately, I am unaware of a study that looks at the frequency and effectiveness that looks at this phenomena.

I’m not the type to throw the baby out with the bathwater, (shocking… seeing as how I’m such an immoral atheist who is presumed to hate organised religion) I do not, in fact, feel that way, personally.

What I do believe is bad is hatred and bigotry, dressed up as religion. Hypocrisy is bad.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

It depends upon who’s doing the organizing.

That word is a misnomer. We tend to think that “organizations” somehow speak with one voice, somewhat like corporations. But truth be known, there is usually a very few heads at the top making the decisions. They’re just very good at organizing large groups to promote those decisions.

I don’t think organizations promote the true will of the people they organize. I think they promote the will of the few people at the top who organize others that want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Not uncommon for an organization to discover their leaders at the as corrupt.

ragingloli's avatar

Here are the obvious things:
Religion, organised religion especially, demands people to believe, unquestioningly, things that are at best without evidence, at worst proven falsehoods.
See Young Earth Creationism.
It creates an us versus them mindset, leading to organised discrimination, oppression and even murder. See infidels, antisemitism, homophobia, racism, sexism, witch hunts, burning of heretics and murder of Homosexuals in Uganda.
It actively opposes scientific advancement. See the Christian Dark Ages, the persecution of Galilei, the murder of Giordano Bruno and the derailing of the Islamic Golden Age by Al-Ghazali.
It instigates war and terrorism. See the Crusades, the IRA in northern Ireland, the “Lord’s Resistance Army” in Uganda, Al Qaida, Hamas, the Taliban, the KKK, the “Army of God” and Hutaree and other christian militias.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Disorganized religion is much, much, better.

Organized religion tends to be coercive and demanding – almost brainwashing. Disorganized religion allow for creativity and variations in belief.

6rant6's avatar

I concur that people often find solace in religion – from both the social aspects and also from the dismissal of doubt.

But those things also accrue to people who choose to inflict their views, justified by religion, onto others. Examples that pop to mind are the Ku Klux Klan, and radical Muslims.

I believe there is a piece of the human psyche that seeks the sense of purpose and righteousness which religion offers. I think it may be harder to be an atheist and be comfortable day to day. It’s hard to weigh your options about right and wrong all the time when there is no one to spoon feed you answers, no single book to offer platitudes.

The greater problem with religion is that it justifies the doing of monstrous things which victimize people outside the religion (and rarely within the religion – witch burnings, Jonestown)

YARNLADY's avatar

No, but with the power that comes from influencing other people, also comes the inevitable abuse of power.

jerv's avatar

Not inherently, no. But like many things, when done wrong, it can be bad.

Organized religion helps feed starving kids in Africa… but also conducted The Spanish Inquisition.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

That’s too broad, it’s like asking if universities are bad or if corporations are bad.

lemming's avatar

It depends on what the beliefs of the religion are. If they are tolerent of other people’s beliefs, and are loose on their fundamental philosophy – like buddhism – everything would, and does, work out quite nicely.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Aster – So the benefit seem to correlate with the ‘organized’ part. Does this mean any organization that fosters support and close friendships is equally beneficial? You mentioned the effect of volunteering. What about being part of something greater than oneself? What about the purpose of life? That’s all linked to some kind of spirituality. So I’m not sure I can agree with Chaeyoon Lim.

mattbrowne's avatar

@CWOTUS – Yes, killing in the name of religion is clearly bad. Like killing in the name of nationalism, communism, or some other ideology. But this also means organized religions have the capability to evolve. Between 1618 and 1648 Catholics and Protestants killed each other in most brutal ways in the region what is now Germany. It’s long been a thing of the past. So we could argue that modern organized religion is better than it was in the past. And yet the perception of organized religion being bad is quite common. Hundreds of Jellies do express this view. It’s like calling modern Germans bad, because many Germans of the past were very bad. Or Americans for that matter.

mattbrowne's avatar

@digitalimpression – Let’s say I’m looking for more than just anecdotal evidence. Like, uh, well, I know this one priest, and he made little boys show him their winkies after confession. Ergo organized religion is bad.

mattbrowne's avatar

@auntydeb – Thanks for the reading tip. I’ll check it out.

mattbrowne's avatar

@cazzie – I totally agree!

mattbrowne's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies – Yes, very often good organized religion is not very outspoken. People do good and it goes unnoticed. And one vocal religious nutcase it enough to make headlines in newspapers. It’s like with a plane crash. No one ever writes about the 25000 aircrafts that do land safely in Europe every day.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ragingloli – You say organized religion especially, demands people to believe unquestioningly. So we can rule out that members of organized religions first ask questions before they decide what to believe? If this were so, how do you explain the changes of organized religion over time?

mattbrowne's avatar

@MollyMcGuire – Yes, it’s very broad. But how do you explain that time and again comments on Fluther contain the sentence that ‘organized religion is bad’? People tend to makes these broad assessments. There must be a reason.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ragingloli – I watched 1 out of 5. Need more time to watch the rest. I will get back to you.

digitalimpression's avatar

@mattbrowne Your example is precisely the reason organized religion is seen as bad. A few bad apples can give a bad impression on the rest of the harvest.

My comment wasn’t anecdotal. It was the smallest form of synopsis possible based off of a lifetime of struggle between Christianity and Atheism. There is something special (something undeniably different) about Christianity that I know in my heart and mind is right.

Getting back to “organised religion”: It depends on the organization.. just as with any other “business” or “practice”. There is no black and white answer to this question because lumping organized religion into one amorphous mass is a faulty premise from jump street. It is akin to asking “are computer companies bad?” or “do hospitals suck?”

So while I could point you toward a random article supporting this or that side of the argument, the structure of the “debate” is flawed. You would need a study covering quite a few religions that covered the entire spectrum, analyzed, and quantified positive and negative effects on the whole.

Technicalities aside, you won’t find a lot of information that isn’t terribly biased such as the linked “article” which begins by referring to religious people as having “the awareness level of a snail”.

My best guess on answering this question is: Yes and no. The followup question: “Are atheists bad?” would be answered the same. It would seem like an ambiguous answer but for the fact that the question is far too broad to answer accurately.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Is organized religion bad for what?

Without saying anything against the comments made here on Fluther, I agree with @digitalimpression that the question itself—which is asked both on and off of Fluther—tends to be posed in a way that is overly broad and that the debate over it tends to be poorly structured. An example of this can be found in the videos to which @ragingloli linked.

Ann Widdencombe’s remarks consistently reveal a failure to distinguish the question “what would the world have been like without the Catholic Church?” from the question “what would the world have been like if no institution had done what the Catholic Church has done?” If those on either side conflate these questions, we can get nowhere in this debate.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

@mattbrowne Yes. Ignorance and stupidity.

mattbrowne's avatar

@digitalimpression – I need to print the 10 reasons article and read it carefully before I can comment on it. And of course I agree with your ‘yes and no’ answer. Mine is the same. But I’m puzzled why the answer is a clear ‘yes’ for so many Jellies. Almost like a trained reflex. When someone mentions ‘organized religion’ associative memory makes neurons fire away. Bad. Evil. Stupid. Aggressive. Ignorant. And so forth.

I was curious of what would happen if I ask the question. Most seem to acknowledge that it’s not that simple.

mattbrowne's avatar

@SavoirFaire – Bad for individuals and communities.

You’re being sloppy by not reading my details section ;-)

mattbrowne's avatar

I watched most of the 5 videos. The Catholic Church is more than the Vatican. Christianity is more than the Catholic Church and religion is more than Christianity. My understanding is that organized religions have the capability to evolve, so the question is about the direction they are going. Every century they have improved with the occasional setback, but the overall direction toward progress is clear to me. Learn from mistake and do not make them again. Therefore it’s a great idea to have debates like the one shown on BBC. I’m sure the Nigerian archbishop will have a lot of food for thought when next traveling to Nigeria or Rome.

jerv's avatar

@mattbrowne True, but with people like Michelle Bachmann and Fred Phelps running around, it’s pretty easy for many people to guess that religion is devolving instead of evolving. Those that are progressing don’t make the headlines, and are therefore invisible.

mattbrowne's avatar

@jerv – Totally agree. It’s the plane crashes that make headline news, not the thousands of safe landings…

cazzie's avatar

Speaking of plane crashes…. I HATE it when there is one survivor of the plane crash and they everyone THANKS GOD? wth is that about? That is pure physics….. why not blame God for the crashing of the plane and all the other deaths? Wth is that about? and please stop it. It does give organised religion a bad name, too.

CWOTUS's avatar

Thank God you said that, @cazzie.

Okay, thank God for all the things you didn’t say, too.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@mattbrowne I read the details. I didn’t say “yes” or “no,” however, so your instructions don’t apply to me. Moreover, you gave suffering and well-being as examples, not as constituents. Did you mean to ask “how does religion contribute to or detract from human suffering and/or human well-being?” That would be a narrower question, which you’ll note is exactly the issue around which my first post was centered.

But hey, thanks for ignoring the majority of what I wrote in favor of a silly comeback to something written on another thread entirely.

mattbrowne's avatar

The term ‘thank God’ has two interpretations

1) oh, how very fortunate
2) dear God, thank you for intervening by momentarily suspending the natural laws you created

Non-superstitious people like myself use the term with meaning #1. And yes, religious people using the term with meaning #2 give organized religions a bad name. But the same applies to non-religious people who believe in astrology or homeopathy or dowsing or alien abductions or ghost hunting or colon cleansing. Pre-enlightenment religions are not the only source of humbug. It’s unfair to link all humbug to all organized religions.

cazzie's avatar

Oh, @mattbrowne I think you know me well enough to realise, I think there is plenty of humbug to go around. You are right on all those points of hum-buggery and I would never say otherwise.

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes, @cazzie, I know :-)

mattbrowne's avatar

@digitalimpression – I’m always surprised when people who normally show good judgment fall prey to hysterical rantings like those of Steve Pavlina and his 10 reasons why we should never have religions. It’s possibly the worst anti-religious propaganda I’ve ever seen. Sorry, as a general message I can’t take this text seriously. I pity Steve Pavlina who probably got terribly hurt in his past and seems to be full of rage with a heart still full of pain. I can easily believe that his Catholic high school teacher is a very bad example of organized religion. And so are priests who have sex with innocent boys. Many girls and women who get raped by evil men have trouble trusting men again. I can understand this and their having thoughts like ‘all men are evil’. Yet many women are capable of posttraumatic growth and as their wounds are healing (which takes time) they can learn to distinguish between good and bad men. I think Steve Pavlina needs psychological counseling. Like George W. Bush or Michelle Bachmann he seems stuck in a simplistic black and white / good and evil world.

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