General Question

BronxLens's avatar

Could society function without religion?

Asked by BronxLens (1539points) June 1st, 2008

If all religions ceased to exist, could we behave ethically & morally without them? Downside of not having one or more religions in our society? Any well known cases of societies that flourished without them?

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35 Answers

squirbel's avatar

Anything could work, provided time for adaptation.

But it depends on how you see religion:
– Some view it as a tool created by few to control many.
– Some view it as a personal creation to explain the world around them and their personal experiences, that, when shared with others, offers resonance.

If you take the first view, all you have to do is forbid religion and ban it in every context to get rid of the issue.

If you take the second view, it will come back no matter what is done.

It should be stated that morality and religion are mutually exclusive, one does not precede the other. Religion will, however, always include morality in its tenets.

nocountry2's avatar

Doesn’t it already?

nikipedia's avatar

Is this a serious question? You think religion is the only thing that makes people behave ethically?

osullivanbr's avatar

Society could absolutely move on ethically without religion. In a lot of ways I could see how society could improve without it.

What I will say though is that without religion western civilisation wouldn’t have developed into anything like what it is today.

St.George's avatar

Yes. Why does a country need religion? People do the right thing for many reasons, and not necessarily religious ones.

Notreallyhere's avatar

Humans need to believe in something. Most people are voluntary religious since the beginning of times. And I’m not talking about the populars(God, Ala, Buda)...excuse my spelling; but other “things” people believes in, like: good luck, destiny, fortune, karma..etc. My point is sooner or later you are gonna find yourself believing on stuff you’ve never seen or felt before, it comes without premeditation.

osullivanbr's avatar

What does believing in good luck and karma have to do with religion?

Notreallyhere's avatar

define religion

Notreallyhere's avatar

do you have proof that whatever happened to you or anybody is good or bad luck?..if not is just pure religion..hey but you could call it whatever you want.

osullivanbr's avatar

I know what you’re saying. You are looking at religion as a belief structure not specific to Gods and hell and heaven. And I agree society will always believe in some kind of luck (for want of a better word) but I really don’t think that’s what Bronx is trying to get at with this question.

Notreallyhere's avatar

by the way I’m not religious…ha..ha..ha

squirbel's avatar

Religion is not only Christianity.

PupnTaco's avatar

Absolutely, and I suspect it would do swimmingly.

seVen's avatar

True Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s personal relationship with God.

St.George's avatar

Christianity is a religion. Your version of it may be a personal relationship with god or a spiritual relationship, but by identifying oneself as a Christian, one is claiming to be part of a particular religious group, specifically a group that believes Jesus Christ was the son of god.

richardhenry's avatar

Religion doesn’t make society function.

Trance24's avatar

If we had no regulated, play by the “book” religion I think we would function just fine. Everyone will always have thoughts of were they came from and weather there are hire beings then our selves. And I’m sure people function ethically even without the threat of God. Not everyone is an asshole. I’m not nice just because I am afraid of going to hell, I’m a nice person because I want to be. In fact if anything Religion causes more violence, and unethical behavior. Because all anyone ever does it fight over who’s religion is rite. So many wars have been fought all in the name of religion. And half the time religion doesn’t even make sense to me. Especially some of the things in the “new” testament. For ex: me and my b/f were is a church he read a paragraph from a page in the bible. “If someone breaks into your house after sunset, and you kill them you will not be damned for murder. If someone breaks into your house after sun rise, and you kill them then you will be damned for murder.” So I can kill someone breaking into my house to cause me harm, and not go to hell. But if someone does the same thing to me after sunrise, I will go to hell for killing them? It all seems so clear to me now….

wizard's avatar

For the record, Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a personal belief.

wildflower's avatar

How can you seriously suggest ethics and religion go hand-in-hand? Maybe my understanding of ethics is a bit screwed up because I’m sure religion has on occasions lead to the less-than-ethical treatment of fellow humans…..?

delirium's avatar

The question is: how can you be ethical /with/ religion.

wizard's avatar

@trance: Is that a joke?

El_Cadejo's avatar

@wizard where do you see a joke?

wizard's avatar

I don’t think the bible says that, unless I missed the sarcastic translation.

El_Cadejo's avatar

No, im her boyfriend, thats exactly what i read.

wizard's avatar

Alright, I’ll look it up. Verse please!

El_Cadejo's avatar

Dude im sorry i have no clue, i was at a viewing and something i just read while jumping to random pages to read bits, didnt take the time to see where it was or anything in the bible.

chatnoir's avatar

All human beings have some sort of belief system. It’s programmed in us somehow. I just finished reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and then The Language of God by geneticist Francis S. Collins and both reveal evidence that cultures across time around the world share some common beliefs that can’t be proven by science, so I think the question points more to the nature of the human being, rather than ‘religion’, as such.

BronxLens's avatar

I think most ‘common beliefs that can’t be proven by science’ are just myths part of the related (geographical/ethnical) folklore. For a more elaborate discussion read Joseph Campbells’s Myths to live by
, or for a less elaborate argument watch

chatnoir's avatar

@BronxLens. There is so much that cannot be ‘proven by science’, even in the discipline of Science. Scientists will admit this.You haven’t done your homework. This idea that our beliefs are determined solely by our ethnicity or geographical/cultural disposition has been discussed by more learned folks than either you or I and it is not as black and white as your comments would lead one to believe. Although polls differ by a couple of percentage points depending on the study, approximately 40% of Scientists believe in God, so are we to assume that some of us are just smarter than these? It’s an interesting subject about which much has been written and discussed. It was also widely held that as cultures became more educated and sophisticated that those that call themselves religious would diminish. This has not been the case. The numbers have about remained the same, since this study was done in 1916. Was Joseph Campbell a scientist? I believe his masters was in literature, as was his Phd.

BronxLens's avatar

There was no homework assigned that I know on this subject LOL. I merelly seeked the opinion of the collective on a hypothetical scenario. And for the record, nowhere I wrote that I don’t believe in the need or not for religion. Still, when thinking about it my thoughts go often to the faith I was raised in as well as to Occam’s Razor –’s_Razor (just food for thought).

Regarding Joe C., being outside the realm of religion & science I think places him at an advantage point, not disadvantage, by providing him among other things with a tiny bit more objectivity by the distance he had from the subject, yet expanded by his world travel & studies of a myriad of civilizations, which allowed him to see patterns that many other didn’t. From virgin birth to miracle healings, from death and resurrection, to ascension to a higher place beyond earthly confines, Campbell illustrated over and over again when & who shared the same story with uncanny resemblance, between civilizations thounsands of years and often thousands of miles apart. Is his argument the only needed one to explain all there is on the subject? Impossible, particulalrly because religion’s currency is faith, not fact. If tomorrow’s religious scientists were able to show scientific evidence of any given ‘miracle’, regardless of the religion, I doubt one single believer would break ranks.

If you need a scientist of stature refuting religion I would offer some of the writings of Richard Feynman , Ph.D. in Physics; or Carl Sagan , a secular humanist with a Ph.D in astronomy & astrophysics.
Now, for every person I can present with solid credentials arguing against religion anyone will be able to present a counterpart arguing for it, although I have seldom found one as convincing as Deepak Chopra

The percentage of believers & non-believers doesn’t come into play as far as providing logical/illogical?! evidence either way. As I stated before, since it’s a matter of personal belief, and not of fact, this is an argument that hasn’t been won and my guess is will never be resolved.

I close with a favorite quote:
“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Albert Einstein

chatnoir's avatar

@BronxLens Love that quote by Albert Einstein. I agree with you on so many points. Fun discussion. Thanks for the thought provoking question.

Critter38's avatar

Could society function without religion?

I suggest you will never find a society with zero religion without suppression of religion (which as communism has shown only makes it go underground).

However, if you accept that a society that has the vast majority of its population not believing in a personal god as “without religion” then Denmark and Sweden meet your requirements as a test case.

Although the vast majority are still members of the Lutheran Church (it has been the default position for decades, you have to actively remove yourself), many still get baptized, and many (if they get married) still do it in church. Through poll after poll after poll and indepth interviews these societies are as openly and voluntarily irreligious as any society that has every existed. Most as stated, do not believe in god, but if the do still have anything to do with the church are so called secular cultural Christians, just as many jews are cultural jews. The beliefs in Jesus as the son of god, and heaven and hell, and salvation and original sin are gone for the vast majority, but the ceremonies remain and are seen as nice traditional aspects of their culture.

These societies come in the top 10 for all common indictors of societal wellbeing, be they peace, lack of corruption, low murder rates, high foreign aid, universal health care, happiness indicies, etc..etc.. etc…

Could a society function without religion? They can and they do.

Furthermore, the prevalence of people who are not just irreligious, but ambivalent about the god question and life after death, challenges the common perception that religion is some how a biological necessity for people.

I suggest those of you think otherwise might gain from reading “Society without God” by Phil Zuckernman.

LostInParadise's avatar

We need to believe in something. Without belief in something beyond ourselves we are reduced to individuals in competition with one another. You may take as given such things as inalienable rights or the importance of helping those in need or the importance of public service. These are all myths, but they are myths that make life livable.

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