Subject: Is Religion Desirable as the Opium of the People? Date: 4 Dec 89 21:06:15 GMT Sen

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From: loren@moonzappa.llnl.gov Newsgroups: talk.religion.misc Subject: Is Religion Desirable as the Opium of the People? Message-ID: <40492@lll-winken.LLNL.GOV> Date: 4 Dec 89 21:06:15 GMT Sender: usenet@lll-winken.LLNL.GOV Reply-To: loren@moonzappa.llnl.gov () Organization: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Lines: 106 There is a large school of thought that states that religion is desirable to have around, not because of any degree of truth, but because it makes people virtuous. In effect, this school of thought states that religion is desirable AS the opium of the people. I hope some examples will make this school of thought clear: The geographer Strabo of Amasia, who was a contemporary of the Roman Emperor Augustus, commented: The great mass of women and common people [yes, I know that's sexist] cannot be induced by mere force of reason to devote themselves to piety, virtue, and honesty. Superstition must therefore be employed, and even this is insufficient without the aid of the marvelous and the horrible. Plato advocated that the rulers of his Republic systematically lie to its citizens. In particular, they should tell one "royal lie" -- that the rulers, the Guardians, are made out of gold, the soldiers are made out of silver, and the working classes are made out of bronze. In this way, the people will be convinced of the Guardians' right to rule them. He feels confident that the people can be induced to believe this myth, implausible as it may seem. The Guardians are to lie in other ways: there will be festivals in which the people will have partners selected for them by lot, or at least that is what they will be led to believe. In actuality, the Guardians will manipulate these pairing according to eugenic principles, in analogy with the selectivity of animal and plant breeders. Homer and Hesiod are to be banned from Plato's Republic, for a variety of moral reasons. They depict rich feasts -- the citizens of the Republic are not supposed to wallow in decadence. They depict people mourning their dead comrades -- the citizens are not supposed to be unhappy about such things. They depict the souls of the dead having a miserable existence in Hades -- the citizens are not supposed to think that they will be unhappy after death. They depict the gods laughing and being lustful -- the citizens are supposed to be grave and serious, and also not horny and lecherous. They depict Zeus handing out good fortune and bad fortune -- the citizens should be taught that God is the cause, not of all things, but only of good things. Plato does not say whether he believes that himself, however; even if it makes a good solution to the Problem of Evil. I somehow suspect that Plato and Xenophanes (see my posting on him) would absolutely rip the Bible, if they could see it in its canonical form. In early modern times, Niccolo Machiavelli also supported this theory. The adjective, "Machiavellian," comes from his depiction of politics in _The Prince_ as a game to be played to win. He went into more detail on political goals in _The Discourses_, in which he stated that religion is a good thing to have around, not because of any purported truthfulness, but because it is a good social cement. He tells us that the Romans were right to pretend to believe in auguries, offical divinations of the will of the Gods, and to punish those who disregarded them. And this is from someone who probably did not believe in the Gods of ancient Rome. Needless to say, there were lots of other advocates of this school of thought. There were many people who held that while "Advanced Thinkers" like themselves who had seen through organized religion, it was necessary to dope the "common people" with it. In recent times, however, one seldom hears this school of thought stated very explicitly. The more usual tendency is to evade the issue whenever it is brought up. Maybe it is expecting too much for people to be honest about an elitist theory like this one. Perhaps a comparison can be made with opposition to divorce. I have a relative who is violently against divorce. As was typical with him, he would seldom give reasons for his anti-divorce stance. One reason he did give, was this his parents had hated each other, but still stayed married. Apparently he believed that people ought to stay married even if they are filled with hate for each other. Most opponents of divorce, however, have not taken this stance, at least in public, for reasons that ought to be obvious. Interestingly, this relative was raised a Catholic. He left the Church in his adolescence, because he was tired of practicing its rituals. However, he thought that one should never say anyting disrespectful of any "established" institutions -- like the Church. A view related to this school of thought, that religion is desirable as the opium of the people, is the school of thought that children should be taught a religion, even if their parents don't practice it, or even believe in it. It is thought that that is a good way of "knowing about" the subject. But is raising one's children hard-line Communists a good way to have them know about politics? I must say that I have more respect for any school of thought that says that some religion is "true" -- WITHOUT any implication that it is desirable as opium for the people. I even have respect for consideration of the possibility that it is necessary to teach people a false religion in order to make people virtuous. But to argue that some religion is desirable as the opium of the people, while evading the question of its truth -- that strikes me as rather extreme intellectual dishonesty. ^ Loren Petrich, the Master Blaster \ ^ / loren@moonzappa.llnl.gov \ ^ / One may need to route through any of: \^/ sunlight.llnl.gov <<<<<<<<+>>>>>>>> lll-lcc.llnl.gov /v\ lll-crg.llnl.gov / v \ star.stanford.edu / v \ v "Crucifixes are sexy because there's a naked man on them" -- Madonna

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