The Swiss Army Knife or the Utility Argument for Religion & Faith

I have always wondered what basis people use for the Utility Argument for religion. I get this more from my Hindu and Buddist friends.  Here are a few examples of how this goes:

a) I do not profess to the dogmas of religion and religious practice. I consider religion a spiritual journey that gives me inner peace.

b) I belong to a mission/church/temple/sect etc. and it gives me a sense of belonging and community.

c) I perform religious ceremonies or practices more to bring my friends and family together and am not really doing it as part of any belief framework.

d) (My Favorite) – I pray since it gives me inner peace and hey it is not like I am asking you to do the same.

e) And finally look at all the charity and humanitarian work going on with the churches and temples. Wouldnt you want to be part of something noble that makes a difference in people’s lives.

So basically it is religion “lite”. I see a few interesting issues and let us unpack this. There need to be some basic guidelines we need to operate under. Everyone is entitled to believe in what they like and feel comfortable with as long as:

  • You are not proselytizing
  • You are not shaping public policy 
  • You are not shaping education policy in public schools
  • You are not providing charity with a precondition of acceptance into your religious worldview

As Sam Harris puts it, ” beliefs matter and individual beliefs matter”. There is a monumental difference between what “feels good” vs what is true. Remember the definition of Faith is acceptance of a proposition with LACK of evidence.  If your practices provide you “utility” and do not violate the above guidelines that is ok …..but it still does not make it TRUE!

There are a lot of institutions that are providing charitable programs and funding without the slant of religion (ex. OXFAM; Doctors without Borders).

Outcome-based prayer has been proven to be ineffective via multiple studies. If the answer is “I am praying to calm my mind and not really ask for any outcomes from a theistic deity” then all you are really doing is meditation!

There is a myriad of ways that you can foster a sense of community. It can be based on interests or it can be based on activities. My point is being part of a church or a temple is not the ONLY option to meaningfully participate in a community.

And by the way, most of these people who will tell you that their approach to religion is a benign, mild spiritual approach have their children in Sunday school/classes learning inane mythological stories and dogmatic practices. Apparently, the utility and spiritual approach that they profess is not germane for their children. This double standard is evident in the Hindu Missions where (in Sunday school) children are being fed this tripe while at the same time the adults are having a “spiritual” discussion on the meaning of life and religious concepts.

I only wish that people would understand that they can get all the utility value that they perceive is being provided by religion, without it.

But then this is wishful thinking……

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