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Benefits of religion: their origins

This page tries to make an inventory of all the beneficial aspects generally attributed to religion. After a more closely examination, it quickly seems to me that those find their origins in phenomena that have nothing to do with any divinity or transcendence and that one can meet or live them in many other circumstances qualified here of "profane".

For each one of these positive aspects (##), if necessary accompanied with a "Tone down", which limits the range of this one, there is a brief presentation of the phenomena from which it results. Some examples of "profane" (or out of religion) versions of these phenomena are given. In no case they should be regarded as precepts. Moreover, these examples are not all "compatible" with freethinking. They are then accompanied by examples of possible "substitutes" that each one can complete according to one’s own criteria or to one’s personality.

Here are only personal opinions, in no way truths.

1 - "The opium of the people"

## Religion eases the existential anguish, the fear of death and of naught.

Tone down: Dogmas, which are at the origin of this easing exempt to face reality and to seek a sense to one’s life. Then religion becomes an illusory compensation (Freud), an opium (Marx) that eases pain and is harmful to the capacity of man to act on reality. Religion diverts the human attention and masks reality.
To rely on someone, on God who decides (or has decided through Revelation) for oneself, it is to renounce one’s autonomy and one's responsibility.

Nature of the phenomenon
Profane versions and / or substitutes
With their dogmas and their certainties, religions have, indeed, response to everything and show the way that leads to happiness here below or to the eternal salvation in the next world. The occultation of the uncertainties that entertain the great existential anguishes prevents those from developing. To renounce one’s critical mind and one’s part of freedom (that may generate uncertainty) may give one’s the impression of comfort.

"One can refuse the type of explanation offered by myths or magic. But one cannot deny to them unit and coherence because, without the least hesitation, they answer any question and solve any difficulty by a simple and single a priori argument."
(François Jacob / Born en 1920 / The game of the possibilities / 1981)

Profane versions:
  • Ideologies and sects. They are also at the origin of the same phenomenon.
  • Drug, alcohol...
  • Anti-depressant.
  • Not let oneself submerge by the news overflowing of misfortunes and death.
  • Learn to know oneself (for instance by introspection):
    - to identify one’s good qualities and to use of it as spurs to action;
    - to locate, admit... and make positive one’s bad qualities or weaknesses.
  • The psychological support of a third.
  • Action, commitment to a hobby, passion, fight for one’s ideas.
"Passion is still what helps the best to live."
(Emile Zola / 1840-1902)

2 - "Tomorrow, it’s free"

## The promise of a future happiness gives hope and provides with happiness "in advance"

Tone down: as in paragraph 1, it is also a form of detachment from reality. Believer is then ready to put up oneself with misfortunes and the sorrows of the terrestrial life. He avoids the research of the real origin of one’s misfortunes and the questioning, when that is necessary, of the temporal power and the established order of things.
The men of Church who promise the next world, as for them, do not risk anything. No dead will come back to bring an action against them for swindling.

Nature of the phenomenon
Profane versions and / or substitutes
In the usual games of chance the player, even without a great knowledge of probabilities, has an intuitive apprehension of the potential winnings. Unless he has a complete faith in his lucky star, the putting up that the player agrees to lose remains trifling.

Religions, as for them, promise exorbitant winnings and moreover propose instructions to obtain it in a practically certain way, which is worth to accept some sacrifices here below. Death is then accepted like a simple transition.
Profane versions:
  • The games of chance.

  • Ditto paragraph 1.

3 - "Charitable work"

## Religion is effective on the humanitarian level and encourages altruism

Tone down: except the cases where the engagement is genuine, the promise of a later compensation (see paragraph 2) moderates the real moral range of such actions. "Saint men" like Father Pierre (in France) or "saint women" like Mother Teresa are too much turned into media events, but they may be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Moreover, the humanitarian action is often accompanied by a proselytism of missionaries, especially effective when its victims are poor and often illiterate populations.

Nature of the phenomenon
Profane versions and / or substitutes
From this point of view, religions are effective for several reasons:
  • The promise of a future compensation and the strong inciting capacity of a divine injunction (cf. Tone down).
  • The historical monopoly that religions have in this field since centuries.
  • An effective communication based on the actions of a few "saint people"? (cf. Tone down)
  • A perfectly broken in organization.
Profane versions:
Religions do not have obviously the monopoly of the "Charitable work".

For instance:
  • The solidarity implemented in the secular society.
  • The many secular Non-Governmental Organizations.
  • The associations of public utility.
In the modern States, taxes charge a part of the produced wealth to redistribute it on behalf of the community and in aid of the most penniless people. Taxes are then a form of collective solidarity that is thoroughly accepted, more effective than the private charity. Many people have a tendency to forget it.

4 – The force of habit

## The soothing and reassuring effects of the religious rites.

Tone down: religious rites generate a relative happiness that freezes imagination, action and progress. Moreover, conscious that it is in the stability and in the timelessness of their dogmas and of their rites that faithful finds a form of appeasing, religions are condemned to be in opposition to progress. This opposition leads to a more and more large gap between them and the real state of society and then to become hidebound. That induces the emergence of heresies or sects, which are more in connection with the expectations of believers. Some of these heresies or sects will become the tomorrow's religions, while the old ones will disappear.

Nature of the phenomenon
Profane versions and / or substitutes
These immutable ceremonies with their scenario without surprise give the illusion to control environment and time. The whole in an imposing decorum...
The feasts that follow one another from month to month and put rhythm into the year, are like stable reference marks.
In case of misfortunes, the religious ceremonies allow not to take the fault upon oneself... since prescriptions were respected. The rituals of religion have a similar function to superstitions. They avoid searching the real causes of misfortunes. That may be useful to be able to overcome one’s distress and to carry on.
Profane versions:
  • To go in the same restaurant every week, to install oneself at the same table, to order the same kind of menu.
  • To watch every day or every week, at the same time, the same program of television.
  • To go every day or every week for a walk, at the same place (cf. the daily walk of Emmanuel Kant).
  • Ditto paragraph 1.

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