(This is meant as an entirely rewritten version of the original post. It is still long, but hopefully clearer.)
Theism is often bashed. Part of that bashing is gratuitous and undeserved. Some people therefore feel compelled to defend theism. Their defence of theism goes further than just putting the record straight though. It attempts to show how theism can be a good thing, or right. That is probably going too far.
I would argue several points. And for that I will be using the most idealistic vision of religion I can conjure, keeping in mind that real world examples may not be as utopian. My intended conclusion is that fairness and tolerance are a necessary and humane means to the end of helping people, which cannot, however, be used to justify as right something that is ultimately wrong.
Theism is indeed a good thing, on short and mid term, both for individuals and society, as it holds certain benefits.Such as helping people stick together in close knit communities, helping people life a more virtuous life by giving themselves incentives to do so, helping them feel better when life feels unbearable or meaningless.
Another point is that theism also possesses deep similarities with science, and uses optimally rational arguments and induction. Optimally, that is, insofar as the premises of theism allow; those premises, what we could call their priors are, for instance, in Christianity, to be found in the Bible.
Finally, I also wanted to draw on further similarities between religion and secular groups of people. Atheism, humanism, transhumanism, even rationalism as we know it on LW. These similarities lie in the objectives which any of those groups honestly strives to attain. Those goals are, for instance, truth, the welfare of human beings, and their betterment.
Within the world view of each of those groups, each is indeed doing its best to achieve those ends. One of catholicism's final beacon, used to guide people's life path, can be roughly said to be "what action should I take that will make me more able to love others, and myself" for instance. This, involves understanding, and following the word of God, as love and morality is understood to emanate from that source.
And so the Bible, is supposed to hold those absolute truths, not so much in a straightforward, explained way, but rather in the same way that the observable universe is supposed to hold absolute truth for secular science. And just as it is possible to misconstrue observations and build flawed theories in the scientific model, given that observational, experimental data, so is it for a christian person, to misunderstand the data presented in the Bible. Rational edifices of thought have therefore been built to derive humanly understandable, cross checked (inside that edifice), usable-on-a-daily-basis truth, from the Bible.
That is about as far as we can go for similarities, purity of purpose, intellectual honesty and adequacy with the real world.
The premise of theism itself, is flawed. Theism presupposes the supernatural. Therefore, the priors of theism, do not correspond to the real state of the universe as we observe it, and this implies two main consequences.
The first is that an intellectual edifice based upon flawed premises, no matter how carefully crafted, will still be flawed itself.
The second runs deeper and is that the premises of theism themselves are in part incompatible with rationality itself, and hence limit the potential use of rational methods. In other words, some methods of rationality, as well as some particular arguments are forbidden, or unknown to what we could tentatively call religious science.
From that, my first conclusion is that theism is wrong. Epistemically wrong, but also, doing itself a disservice, as the goals it has set itself up to, cannot be completed through its program. This program will not be able to hit its targets in optmization space, because of that epistemical flaw. Even though theism possesses short and mid term advantages, its whole edifice makes it a dead end, which will at the very least slow down humanity's progress towards nobler objectives like truth or betterment, if not even rendering that progress outright impossible past a certain point.
Yet, it seems to me that this mistaken edifice isn't totally insane, far from it, at least at its roots. Hence it should be possible to heal it. Or at least, helping the people that are part of it, healing them.
But, religion cannot be honestly called right, no matter how deep that idea is rooted in our culture and collective consciousness. On the long term, theism deprives us of our potential, it builds a virtual, unnecessary cage around us.
To conclude on that, I wanted to point out that religious belief appears to be a human universal, and probably a hard coded part of human nature. It seems fair to recognize it in us, if we have that tendency. I know I do, for instance, and fairly strongly so. Idem for belief in the supernatural.
This should be part of a more general mental discipline, of admitting to our faults and biases, rather than trying to hide and make up for them. The only way to dissect and correct them, is to first thoroughly observe those faults in our reasoning. Publicly so even. In a community of rationalists, there should be no question that even the most flawed, irrational of us, should only be treated as a friend in need of help, if he so desires, and if we have enough ressources to provide to his needs. The important thing there, is to have someone possessing a willingness to learn, and grow past his mistakes. This, can indeed be made easier, if we are supportive of each other, and tolerant, unconditionally.
Yet, at the same time, even for that purpose, we can't yield to falseness. We can and must admit for instance that religion has good points, that we may not have a licence to change people against their will, and that if people want to be helped, that they should feel relaxed in explaining all the relevant information about what they perceive to be their problem. We can't go as far as saying that such a flaw, or problem, is, in itself, alright, though.