Monday, October 4, 2010

Belief can be useful, but is it necessary?

In his latest work, Christian author Philip Yancey asks What Good Is God? For those too eager to wait for the book, he gives examples in an interview:

Yancey said if someone in Africa was asked what a Christian is, they may answer, "Well, I'm not sure, but there's this hospital van that comes here once a month and has a cross on it and they treat our wounds."
Another might say, "Well, I'm not sure but there are these folks called World Vision and they dug a well for my village and now we have something to drink.”
"And then others will tell about churches that come in and help transform a society by speaking against drunkenness and corruption," Yancey added.
"I wish skeptics like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins had the same chance to hear stories of transformation from social outcasts who hit the very bottom and now credit God for the strong grace that saved them in the most literal sense," Yancey wrote.
But the ability of religion to offer psychological benefit to those with particular needs is well established.  Once the needs diminish, the religion frequency follows.  As Yancey notes:
In his book, Yancey acknowledges how Christianity can be good for society but also notes how, as that society achieves a level of comfort and prosperity, its citizens feel less need for religious faith.
So religion can play a role in making the world a better in some places and at some times.  But as Humanists we have (at least) two questions.  Can people find the inspiration to do good and the psychological strength to face adversity through means other than religion?  And what comes with the good effects of religion?  Are those well-diggers also banning contraception, condemning people born with homosexual inclinations, fighting science, etc. ?

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