PZ attacks religious beliefs with his usual angry panache:
Religion is a bad thing. It encourages people to believe in things that are not true. It really is as simple as that; we’d be better off if people valued truth over comfortable delusions.
Unlike most Americans, I don’t believe in angels, the devil or the possibility of eternal salvation. I think Armageddon has more to do with nuclear proliferation than the Book of Revelations. But attacking the ideas of religion fails to address the real value of religion. People don’t go to church because they want to read the same old fantastical stories again and again. Even the Sermon on the Mount gets old after a few recitations. They go to church (or temple or the mosque or whatever) because they want to be part of a community. Here’s Frances Fitzgerald in the latest New Yorker, writing about the growth of megachurches in New England:
Robert Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard, who has written extensively on the breakdown of social networks, and Andy Stern, the president of the Service Employees International Union, have both described the megachurch as one of the most successful community-building institutions of modern times. Almost all megachurches have cafes of food courts, bookstores, sports facilities, child care, youth programs, and small groups, which can include anything from Bible-study classes to affinity groups for motorcyclists. Most of the larger churches have an array of counselling programs and support groups for those suffering from divorce, depression, addiction or the death of a loved on. Many, including Faith Church, offer classes in how to manage family finances, and many have funds to help church members through financial crises. All have opportunities for community service, and many have drama groups, arts classes, and high-tech recording equipment. In other words, megachurches offer just about everything the newly arrived suburbanite can’t find at Wal-Mart or Home Depot.
PZ’s critique of religion assumes that humans are natural epistemologists, interested above all in the truth of our beliefs. But most of us just aren’t that interested in truth. We are social animals. We just want to belong.
Update: So before the comments get too rowdy and harsh, let me be clear: I’m not endorsing the megachurch community. I’m simply pointing out that, for many people, it fills an important societal void. (It’s not an accident that the biggest megachurches are in exurbs.) If I had my way, people would find less solidarity in religion and more solidarity in art. The ballet or play or rock concert would be our church. (For me, at least, seeing Bruce Springsteen live is probably the closest I’ll ever come to a “religious” experience, at least as defined by William James.) We wouldn’t need God to bring us together, since our own imaginative creations could do the job. Hopelessly naive? You bet. But if I can’t indulge my utopian daydreams on a blog post, then what is blogging for?