The Benefits of a Post-Theistic Society - Be Good Without God

How Religion Blinds Us To Real Solutions to Real Problems.

You don't need God – to hope, to care, to love, to live

I love my father-in-law.  He's a Catholic Deacon.  I love my mother.  She is a non-denominational Christian who attends a church that is loosely based on the Baptist and Methodist versions of Christianity.  I love my aunt, who attends a growing mega-church.  I love my deceased grandmother, whose gravestone bears the words that I still sing to my daughter most nights before she goes to bed, "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound."  The point being - lovely, caring, intelligent people believe in God and attend church, but you don't need God to be good.

The reason you don't need God to be good is because there is no evidence that God exists, and probably does not; yet people - secular and theistic alike, still commit random acts of kindness all over the world.  At the same time, most of the worst atrocities in history were committed at the hand of one tribe's religion over another. It's in the brain.

People are lost, confused in a sea of contemporary knowledge

With discoveries like billions of lonely planets in the universe, advances in evolutionary development (evo-devo for short), and new insights with fMRI technology that shows how the brain responds to various environmental influences, it is becoming increasingly clear that God is made in our image, not the other way around.

Religion is simply an antiquated remnant of a misguided biological heritage, and the times and needs of humanity call for a revolution in our mindset before it's too late.

The Psychology of Religion - Good and Evil

This could be a long post about how nearly every major bloodbath in the history of of the world has been fought by religious zealots under the guise of fighting on the side of the Lord, but that's what encyclopedias and history books are for. After all, most of us are level-headed, normal people who don't do such things, right?

Well, not so fast.  According to massive amounts of psychological research, there is a very fine line between a typical human being's reaction in a typical situation, and a wholly irrational reaction in an untenable, atypical set of circumstances. Under the right level of stress, a generally good person can easily slide into an emotional fight or flight state of mind. That, however, is in the short term.

In the long term, in-group psychology, a biological default for all of humanity, means that we naturally believe that what is most like us is better than what is less like us.  And in the "right" situation, worth dying for.  As a matter of fact, as Psychologist Stanley Milgram found, all you have to do is put a lab coat on someone and completely "normal", unsuspecting people, will do their evil bidding for them.

Another psychologist, and founder of the Heroic Imagination Project, Philip Zimbardo, calls this "The Lucifer Effect" in his book by the same name.  The subtitle explains it all, "Understanding How Good People Turn Evil."  It is basically in our natural programing that if the situation arises, all of us are capable of doing what we would otherwise consider evil as long as we can justify it with something abstract, like patriotism, or lack of intelligence, or dehumanization of the enemy, or religion, and last but not least... just doing your job under a supposed authority figure.

Cardinals vs. Cubs

The good news is that simply by being aware of this psychological defect in our humanity, a person can avoid the pitfalls of evil. Herein lies the problem with religion, even in a moderate or liberal religious sense.  The essence of religious belonging, or personal classification, is that in it's most important sense, "My God is the right God, therefore, your God is the wrong God."  

If you have ever seen a drunk Cardinal fan heckle a Cubs fan at Busch Stadium, you will see the consequences of this psychological defect first hand.

However, unlike baseball, religious matters are the most serious of these in-groups, dealing with our deepest emotions and natural tendencies, like the need to belong, the need to survive, and the need to feel like we have some semblance of control over our lives.  

It doesn't help that children are indoctrinated (besides daily activities, think baptisms, christenings, bar mitzvah's, weekly religious indoctrination "schools," etc.) with their particular culture's superstitions from birth into adulthood.  This is an important point considering the logical part of the human brain, the pre-frontal cortex isn't fully developed until around the age of 26.  

Some may not like the term "indoctrination," after all, most like to feel as if they are completely in control of their beliefs, but it is no accident that if you are born to Muslim parents, it is a near certainty that you will be a Muslim.  If you are born to Catholic parents, it is a near certainty that you will grow to be a Catholic.  If you are born to Hindu parents, it is a near certainty that you will grow to be Hindu.

None of this started with this generation.  It was the same with their parents, and the parents before them, and the parents before them, etc.  The point being, in the mind of an individual, the only thing that makes one's religion more right than someone else's is that their parents believed it before they did.  This is the case with the Muslim who flies a plane into a building, with a Christian who shoots eighty children, and with a Jew who lobs hand grenades into a crowded Palestinian wedding.

Being Good Without God

Do Christians and Muslims and Jews et al do good as well?  Absolutely.  Why wouldn't they? It's in our nature to be good, even if it is for selfish reasons. Others who do good are the folks at the Foundation Beyond Belief, The United States Government, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Bono from U2.  As the latter have proven, you can (and should) be good without God.

The case I am making here is not that good people be can not be religious, but that religion is ultimately detrimental to all people, both good and bad.  Religion is an unnecessary filter for what is right and what is wrong.  Ninety-nine percent of the normally developed human race knows innately that killing is wrong.  We don't need a secondhand tablet from God to tell us it's wrong.

Since there is no evidence whatsoever that any kind of God exists, the phrase "Good without God" becomes self evident.

Delusion and Denial

Besides the most obvious harmful traits of even the most well-meaning religious institutions, the greatest harm at the hand of religion is that of delusion and denial.

By having a foundation in superstition, civilizations are constantly mishandling major challenges, often times intentionally by the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the unsuspecting. Relevant challenges in our time include issues like climate change due to man-made global warming, poverty, war, local and global economics; all of which are almost always addressed irrationally, and from a position of general ignorance by the religious populace.  

After all, God has a plan and knows what is going to happen anyway - but if we try hard enough, we can attempt to influence his decisions through mental telepathy strategies, like prayer, or other kinds of magic.

The Finality of Death

So what's the alternative?  To begin with, simple bits of factual, practical knowledge should be well known.  For example, if a lion dies, or a fly dies, or a monkey dies, we accept them as forever, eternally dead.  Nothing in the next 30 trillion years is going to change the fact that the dead monkey will never live again. 

Yet, even though we have most of the same characteristics of a monkey (head, two arms, two legs, a mouth, two eyes, a nose, two ears, hair, anus, reproductive organs, 96% of our genes, veins, heart, lungs, kidneys, intestines, etc.) we believe that some how, some way, when we die, it is not final.  

For no good reason, and with zero empirical evidence, we have convinced ourselves over several millenia that there just has to be something else out there.  Yet, as I said, no good reason or evidence exists that our deaths are any less final than a flattened skunk on a country road.

There is No Longer a Good Excuse (In the Developed First World) To Be Religious

In the 21st century, there is no longer a good excuse for the amount of effort and intellectual brain power lost to the dense black hole of religion.  In an era where life as we know it becomes increasingly, predictably uncertain, it is time to put the irrational beliefs of billions into the fairy tale books where they belong.  

It is time to sit down and begin to have a rational, measured discussion on the challenges that lie in front of us as well as the challenges yet to be identified.

If the human race, our grandchildren and beyond, are to survive, we must begin to strive for a post-theocratic society, where modern religions (and those destined to take their place) are relegated to the same cultural history books as their forebearers - as we have already done with Zeus and Athena.

After all, "Without a Master Caretaker, it is up to us to make things better."

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Franchesca August 06, 2011 at 02:19 AM
From a purely psychological standpoint, there is an enormous good that comes from religion. Some of it is a matter of community. Some of it is a sense of purpose. Some of it comes from simply having faith. There IS good in faith. Faith in all things. Faith in the goodnness of humanity. Faith in the love of a parent or a child. Faith IS a good thing. You may not agree with an existence of God. I put that question away long ago. But I will argue with you against their being no reason for religion in a developed first world country. We don't need a good excuse for religion. It's not about excuses. It is an expression of the very reason we are alive. Not for all, but for many. Religion, in one form or another has been around since the very beginning of human documentation. It will change, but I don't see if fading from view. It's valuable and it's worth attempting to understand what people gain from it.
Jason Wescoat August 06, 2011 at 08:17 AM
At the risk of sounding like my 6 year old son, why? Specifically, why be good? Why is it wrong to kill? The lion kills and nobody thinks it's bad. We kill for food everyday, and most people don't complain. Why would it be okay to kill a cow and not a human? Why does anyone who disagree with you live in delusion and denial? For just one example, if the world is indeed roughly 3.7 billion years old, it has been much hotter and much cooler than it is now, without human involvement, many times over. What makes anyone think we can fully understand the complexities of global climate for the next century when we don't know for sure what's going to happen tomorrow, next week, or next year? Why are all the good that churches do ignored? There is some truth to the fact that various religions have been a part of a significant number of bloodbaths in history, but usually when combined with government involvement, not a group of church goers getting together to destroy another group of church goers that grows to WWIII. Why is what someone claims when committing an atrocity (9/11 "muslims," Norwegian child murderer "christian," etc...) is taken as truth and accurate? Why can't it be acknowledged that perhaps they weren't what they said they were? Why are you the final decision maker on what the evidence says or doesn't say about God? Consistently degrading others beliefs and pretending to be smarter than everyone reading, including your own wife, doesn't make you right.
Karl Frank Jr. August 06, 2011 at 12:46 PM
Jason - I'm not sure if you read the whole article. It mentions how people are born naturally to do good and then points you to empirical data on the topic. "Good being defined as that which increases and/or does not endanger well being." As far as "Why be good?...Why is it wrong to kill?" Again, I talk about this in the article and point to references. Did you happen to check these references out? For argument's sake, what if God itself told you one day that killing was good. Would you all of a sudden think killing is good because God said so? The point being, the feeling and repulsion of killing is hardwired into our evolution. That's why 99% of the world's population are NOT psychopaths...including the Billions or so who are good without God. On Climate Change due to man-made global warming, this has nothing to do with opinion and complexity. If you know and understand the scientific method, every major scientific and national scientific academy in the world (including the American Meteorological Society, American Physical Society, American Geophysical Union, AAAS, Geological Society of America, American Chemical Society, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, every international academy of science, and more.) - However, in order to understand the relevance of this fact, you have to understand what the scientific method is, including the fact that the demarcation between science and pseudoscience is both test-ability and falsifiability. (ctnd:)
Karl Frank Jr. August 06, 2011 at 12:59 PM
Jason, you also ask, "Why ignore the good that churches do?" Who was ignoring it? It is mentioned quite a bit in the article and includes articles on why as social beings, it's in our nature to do good. The point was the people that make up churches could still do all of their good, but they could do it without the delusion of a master caretaker. The result being that they could do good without all of the negatives that come with it. To simplify the article a bit: 1. You don't need God – to hope, to care, to love, to live 2. There is no good reason to believe in God. Zero evidence. But there is a lot of evidence as to why we believe there is. 3. Since there likely is no God, and there is still good means quite simply, you CAN be good without God. 4. There are no final decisions here; however, evidence is evidence. If you have some, please share. What the article provides is not only my analysis of the current state of knowledge, but also provides references. 5. There is a real history to the bible and how it came into existence. The origins of the bible are 100% earthly. A theologian that teaches the history of the New Testament and how it came to be what it is today is a great starting point, or source for the history of the bible, but your own investigation is probably necessary. His name is B. Ehrman and he teaches on Chapel Hill. His book is "Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them."
Karl Frank Jr. August 07, 2011 at 12:54 AM
The Discovery Channel is premiering a new show tomorrow. The topic is relevant to this post: Did God Create the Universe? Premieres Sunday, Aug. 7 at 8pm e/p About This Episode Stephen Hawking unfolds his personal, compelling vision of the biggest question of all: Who or what created the universe in which we live? The groundbreaking series Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking combined cutting-edge CG with Hawking's witty, distinctive and incisive worldview. Now, we take the journey a step further, as physics and cosmology become tools to answer questions that philosophers have struggled with for thousands of years.
Jason Wescoat August 07, 2011 at 07:14 PM
Still not much for answers, perhaps I need to clarify the questions. How did we get evolutionarily hard wired to do good? Where in nature are the sick cared for they way humans do? Where in nature do whole populations give of themselves for others they don't know and will never see again? What evolutionary benefit is there of spending extra money and extra time on people who are a "drag" on society? From an evolutionary standpoint, why be good, or perhaps better stated, why did we start to be good? I am familiar with the scientific method, and that relies on good data, and always starts with assumptions, regardless of how impartial those are that are interpreting results. Most of the data comes from an agency we know has at the very least dubious people gathering data. They also are looking for results to back up man-made global warming, as the money backing the studies has that base assumption. I'm actually far more of an environmentalist than many on the right, but getting carried away with suspect data isn't wise. Also, if the scientific method is so perfect, we would have a cure for HIV, all types of cancer, and heart disease. It's not perfect, it's part of research and study to learn and then to continue learning about what we're studying. Complexity clearly has an impact. We can know with certainty how long it will take a quart of water starting at 50 degrees and put on a burner set at 300 degrees to boil. We can't say the same for more complex processes.
Karl Frank Jr. August 08, 2011 at 01:40 AM
Ok. Starting from the beginning. 1. How did we get evolutionary hard wired to do good? - The simple answer is because not doing good is not good for you. Whether it is a school of fish, a colony of ants, a family group of apes, or other hominids (Hominidae) like humans, cooperation is beneficial for natural selection and reproduction. For more information, check out Stanford University's Open Source Topic on Biological Altruism - http://goo.gl/XkdXp and more on the compassionate instinct. - http://goo.gl/aVxmE 2. Where in nature are the sick cared for the way humans do? This article and video of a chimpanzee morning the deaths of members of their communities: http://goo.gl/qbBYr - Elephants morning deaths - http://goo.gl/6QnGU 3. Where in nature...people give of themselves for others...for those they won't see? - Start with Nova's 'Lord of the Ants' - http://goo.gl/N700Y 4. Spending extra money? Not sure what you mean here. People invented money. However, there is evidence of Apes bartering at a greater probability than that of chance alone. http://goo.gl/4fwxP 5. Why be good? See (1.) 6. "Most of the data comes form an agency we know has at the very least dubious people gathering data." - Please provide a reference. When I think of Einstein, Hawking, Newton, particle accelerators, etc., I don't think of improper interest. 7. "Suspect Data." Not so. If you don't like scientific data, perhaps an oil tycoon - http://goo.gl/nDLr9
Karl Frank Jr. August 08, 2011 at 01:51 AM
Continued: 7. Part of scientific data is that it is a process, not a movement. Scientific data is subjected to peer-review, critical review, and recreating results, either through direct observation or in testable manners. Is it possible for a scientist to be an activist manipulating the data in Baltimore? Sure. But it won't be long before that scientist is discredited or that the flaws are discovered in their methodology. 7b. What most don't know about as it relates to modern sciences it that there was a revolution in science moving from positivism to falsifiability as the ultimate demarcation between science and pseudo-science. It's not enough to set up to test or expirament, but in order for it to fall in the realm of science, the conjecture needs to be falsifiable. So A., if you can't conceivable prove it wrong, it is out of the realm of science, and B., Good science is not be setting up observational experiments to prove your conjectures right, but to design experiments to prove your conjectures wrong.
Karl Frank Jr. August 08, 2011 at 01:51 AM
And finally: 8. "If the scientific method is so perfect, we would have a cure for HIV, all types of cancer, and heart disease." - The scientific method is the most perfect method for progress and understanding, but it is a human venture and is by no means perfect. However, we can say with confidence, scientific discovery never takes us closer to the bible and God, and always forces religion to re-evaluate and to adjust. Never the other way around. Before science there was no cure for polio. All the prayer in the world would not have cured polio. The same can be said for HIV, cancer, etc. If we ever discover a cure, it will be through the scientific method, or by coincidental accident, not prayer, and certainly not the human invention of an invisible guy in the sky.
Shane Saunders August 08, 2011 at 03:23 AM
Karl, I don't have the time to lay out why you and Stephen Hawking are wrong, but one day when each of you take your last breaths on earth you will be in for a sad reality. Hopefully you and Stephen both see the Light before it is to late.
Karl Frank Jr. August 08, 2011 at 03:30 AM
You don't have time? LOL. Don't you have like 30 Trillion Years plus another 30 Trillion years, plus the 70 years or so here on Earth that will determine your next 60 plus Trillion years? Time is the longest thing you will ever have Shane.
Shane Saunders August 08, 2011 at 03:43 AM
You just proved my point which is why I said what I did. Your posts and comments prove you have your mind made up so I am making the point that nothing on earth will change your mind right now. So, why waste my time right now when you have your heart closed to God and the power of Jesus Christ. Hopefully one day your eyes and heart will open up and then I will take as much time as needed to answer your questions and challenge you to question your beliefs. For now, check out Lee Strobel's "Case for Christ" on HULU and see if what you have in common with Lee. http://www.hulu.com/watch/141396/case-for-christ
Shane Saunders August 08, 2011 at 03:46 AM
By the way, the movie is only 71 minutes of the 70 plus years you will have on Earth. Can you spare 71 minutes?
Jason Wescoat August 08, 2011 at 03:57 AM
Obviously we're never going to agree, mostly because we have a different definition of good. Cooperation is a good thing to do (mutual benefit), but it's not doing good (only benefiting another). Mourning death is a reasonable thing as any entity will miss what it's used to being around, but it's not doing good (also not caring for the sick I might add, just mourning the loss). I am curious to watch the "Lord of the Ants" in the near future, I just don't have 53 minutes right now, and the same with your NT person from an earlier post. I know you're aware of Climategate. I'm not aware of Einstein, Newton, et al, arguing for man-made global warming. That's the whole of the suspect data I'm talking about. Regarding the scientific method, I agree it's a magnificent tool and that it was used to find a cure for Polio and that without it, we won't find a cure for HIV, cancer, etc. The experiment also has to be repeatable or it's garbage (see the Korean stem cell data that was made up and then ripped to shreds). I disagree that it always causes religion to re-evaluate and adjust. It might cause some to do that, but that doesn't mean the religious adjustments are correct. In fact, scientists say Christians put their head in the sand and ignore science, they don't adjust. Until Darwin, the majority of science was people wanting to learn about the Universe God had given them. He did cause a readjustment and some fear in religious circles, and it's impact is obviously still felt today.
Karl Frank Jr. August 08, 2011 at 04:02 AM
I have read and watched 'The Case for Christ." As I said above, my father-in-law is a Catholic Deacon and shared this with me. I watched the Case for Christ on Netflix. - It's all anecdotal nonsense. Check out this information on logical fallacies called "Argument from Ignorance." http://goo.gl/Nvli Usually when folks direct me to the Case for Christ (happens at least once or twice a month) - I likewise point them to former Evangelical Preacher Dan Barker's "Losing Faith in Faith." It's also an unfair characterization to say that I have made up my mind. However, it is fair to say that it is silly to believe in things there is absolutely zero observational evidence for. My mind is only as made up as is the empirical evidence. I have made up my mind (to date) that if there is a God, it is nothing like what is portrayed in the middle-eastern religions originating 2000-4000 years ago. I have also made up my mind that there probably are no fairies or unicorns either. But if the facts ever change, I will be the first to announce the errors of my ways.
Karl Frank Jr. August 08, 2011 at 04:03 AM
It is also important to note that I don't dispute some sort of historical Jesus, but I do dispute the divinity of Christ. A famous historical American who did as well is Thomas Jefferson. Have you ever heard of his re-writing of the New Testament to remove all of the divine nonsense? - http://goo.gl/izYgy (I do not share Jefferson's respect for the Biblical Jesus as human sage, but more as Bart Ehrman describes Jesus, as an "apocalyptic Jew." A good analogy for the historical Jesus may be similar to the portrayal of William Wallace's uncle in Braveheart, who was actually a culmination of several characters. By the way, do you know who wrote the books of New Testament? Especially the first four books?
Shane Saunders August 08, 2011 at 04:07 AM
Like I said, your heart and head are closed off to seeing the Light of Jesus Christ.
Shane Saunders August 08, 2011 at 04:11 AM
The theory of evolution has not been proven and neither has the big bang theory. So, where did we come from and how come the gorilla I saw at the zoo yesterday was not able to talk to me if I am related to him as so many anti-God scientists say he is?
Karl Frank Jr. August 08, 2011 at 04:13 AM
Shane, my heart pumps blood around my body to transport oxygen. http://goo.gl/SFqNu - My head generally blocks most light from entering, except that of which enters my eyes. And even that is suspect. http://goo.gl/K96Zi If you have evidence of "The Light of Jesus Christ," please share.
Karl Frank Jr. August 08, 2011 at 04:24 AM
On evolution, I recommend starting with Neil Shubin's "Your Inner Fish," http://goo.gl/uKwm3 and then Sean Carrol's "Endless Forms Most Beautiful." http://goo.gl/6RBxf - While evolutionary theory is incomplete, it is by no means unproven. It would be helpful for all involved to learn the actual science of evolution before criticizing it. (Again, refer to the Argument from Ignorance link above.) The things you say about evolution above are just senseless. No scientists says the things in the way that you are representing them. If you want the nutshell version, this Stanford Medical School Article is a good place to start. http://goo.gl/Bm5L5 As an aside, we did not "come from apes." 1. We are apes. (For fun, look in the mirror, hold your ears out and blow your cheeks out.) 2. We have a common ancestor with other modern apes, chimpanzees, etc. 4-6 million years down the tree. (Depending on which species you mean.) http://goo.gl/E55ZQ
Karl Frank Jr. August 08, 2011 at 04:29 AM
Also Shane, do you know who wrote the books of the New Testament? Especially the first four books? Since you are such an ardent believer in what they say, I would think you would like to know where and how they originated. There is indeed a history.
Karl Frank Jr. August 08, 2011 at 04:32 AM
So --- tomorrow is going to be a long day now. I finish this evenings festivities with this entertaining little diddy from the 'Symphony of Science.' - http://goo.gl/gd7wG "The Story of Us."
Jason Wescoat August 08, 2011 at 04:48 AM
I'll be honest, Karl. I enjoy debating with you. When you remove the acerbic tone, which you mostly have in this, at least with me, it's worth doing and helps me work though my own thoughts. I want to find truth, and if "talking" with you helps me do that, I'm glad you're here and willing. I don't have blind faith, but reasoned faith based on evidence that to me is abundantly clear. I hope you have time to continue later after your long day. This brings me to the one thing I haven't touched on yet, other than to disagree, which is the assertion of there being zero evidence for God. If you want to argue about the God of the Bible, feel free. I'm happy to go there as well. However, to ignore the greatest minds of our time, including Crick, Einstein and Hawking, admitting that there is extreme evidence of a "superintellect" (Hoyle) in their research, wouldn't seem to be wise for someone who hasn't made up their mind. The empirical evidence you're looking for to support the thought of a supreme being is all around us, not the least of which if our very existence. Again, even some of the greatest known atheists, Dawkins most notably, admit as much.
Karl Frank Jr. August 08, 2011 at 01:04 PM
I will definitely get back to this later, but some of what Einstein said has been misrepresented...even during his lifetime. Because of it, he was prompted to say, “I do not believe in immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.” Since he never publicly criticized God (likely due to the obvious fall-out) he often spoke euphemistically about God, science and the universe. However, his private writings and notes tell a different story. The above quote was pulled from Helen Dukas's "Albert Einstein, The Human Side: New Glimpses from His Archives." http://goo.gl/O254J


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