Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What Should Replace Religion?

What Should Replace Religion (Originally Posted October, 2010)
Daniel Dennett earlier this afternoon delivered at the Atheist Alliance Conference in Montreal a talk entitled, "What Should Replace Religion?".   It's a rather presumptuous question, which Dennett admitted at the outset.  I've never seen him speak in person, but his roughly one hour presentation was in line with those I've viewed on youtube:  clear, concise, entertaining, and thought provoking.  Unlike his other presentations, however, his thesis was wrong.  Clearly wrong.

The premise of Dennett's thesis was not really "What should replace religion?", but what positive elements or products of religion should we consider retaining?  He provided a laundry list of possibilities that included hope, love, music, art, and community.  There were quite a few more items in the list, but I can't remember them all and it's actually irrelevant.  It's irrelevant, because everything on his list is not the sole domain of religion any more than morals are owned by religion.   Would music disappear in the abscence of religion?  Love?  Hope?  Community?  No.  Isn't this obvious?

To be sure, religion has had influence on many things.  Music can be inspired by religion or religious experience.  Dennett gave the example of the Bach cantatas that are performed at a local church just outside Boston.  Bach was a musical genius--one of the greatest composers in the history of the modern world.  Would he have failed to compose music without religion?  I think not.  While I'm orders of magnitude below the capabilities and talent of Bach, I compose, arrange, and perform music without any religion at all.  I suspect that Bach's inate music ability would have found an outlet in a secular society if such a thing existed in early 17th century.  And I would suggest his musical output would be no less spectacular.  Turning to modern times, Dennett provided a further musical example: gospel music.  Clearly the lyrics of gospel music are religious and the performance of gospel has roots in the church.  But, would have gospel music failed to emerge under a secular history?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I am certain that some sort of music, perhaps a new genre that we will now never know precisely because of religion, would have emerged from the experience and struggles of blacks in the south.  Maybe we'd have secular gospel music, not unlike the new gospel music that got Dan waving his arms in the air, as well as a few others in the crowd.   Music is not owned by religion.   Therefore, there is no need to consider whether it is a quality that we should consider retaining from religion.

Daniel Dennett gets "religious" listening to atheist gospel music:  
gospel-style music with secular and atheist lyrics.

The same argument applies to love, hope and everything else on the list.  Can atheists love?  Sure.  So, why is that a quality that should be retained from religion.  It's not a religious quality at all.   I'm rather shocked--disappointed, actually--that Dennett would make such an obvious error in reasoning.  There is nothing of value that religion provides uniquely.  Nothing.  It provides no knowledge or insight into the understanding of the universe, and it has no claim to morals, emotions, music, art or any of the other valuable qualities of the human experience.  I would suggest that rather than promoting the items on Dennett's list, religion often suppress and destroys many of the positive aspects of life that we cherish.   Hope and religion:  hope that you don't burn in hell?  Love:  unless of course your gay.  Community?  Sure, as long as you have the correct religion otherwise you burn in hell.

I'm sure a youtube recording of the presentation will be made available soon.  I'll post an update with a link if and when that happens so that you can listen and decide for yourselves.
Posted by Scot Rafkin at 8:59 PM (Originally posted October, 2010)