I've heard that argument before, and it does have a lot of weight. In this case, though, are we talking about religion or about costly ritual? Both are cultural phenomena, and they're frequently found together, but there are religions that aren't into ritual at all (like (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quakers), who are best known for their simple, silent style of prayer and worship, and don't go around building fancy cathedrals). And there are costly "rituals" which are not related to religion at all: football, for example, or theatre.

Agreed that churches which run charities may run their sub-optimally from an atheist's point of view, since a lot of the time one of the unstated aims of their charity is to convert people. (This used to make me furious when I attended the Pentecostal church mentioned in one of the parent comments.) But we were talking about ritual, and I was specifically talking about deeply moving, meaningful rituals. It just so happens that the ones that have meaning to me are religious in nature. I know a lot of people find arts and theatre meaningful, and likely there are people who find watching sports meaningful, in a similar way. There's some kind of human instinct to gravitate towards activities that are communal, repetitive, and have a sense of tradition that imbues them with meaning. There's also a human instinct to think superstitiously, which I don't share much, and which makes it hard for me to really enjoy those meaningful moments in church.

Nitpick: yes, paying for a bishop's work and teaching children to sing is something that happens "under religion's umbrella." That doesn't make it bad! I learned to sing better through the church choir (for which I was paid a monthly stipend for the community service of singing during Sunday worship!) than I would have in the $400-per-month children's choir, which I probably wouldn't have been allowed into...most people thought I was tone deaf until I proved them wrong. Bishops who organize community events and charities are doing something good for the community, whether or not it's sub-optimal, and face it...are any human activities run optimally? Yes, it's possible to have a better community-runner than a church, but the amount of money that goes into churches right now does produce something of value!

Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011)

by orthonormal 1 min read12th Aug 2010805 comments


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