Do People *Need* Religion?

Imagine, there's no Heaven....that's an absolute absurdity because what do we have to live for? We have no explanation for how we got here. We have no explanation for where we're going or no explanation for why we should live morally, today!

(See, I don't build up men made of straw to make these posts!)

Theists argue that people need religion in order to live. In other forms, people say, "People have to believe in some higher power!" I find that the sentiment of "people need religion" is a very sad and false view of human nature that even believers should not accept.

It's quite obvious that people don't need religion to live because many non-religious people are quite fine without it. People from all times in human history have been just fine without religion. Non-believers aren't mopey and sappy automatons with no purpose in life just because they don't subscribe to a religion.

I think that the real claim that some people are trying to make is that some people need religion in order to live, but this is also false and dehumanizing. Saying that a person needs to subscribe to a system of beliefs of some sort in order to live is equivalent to saying, "they don't know any better and can't make decisions for themselves; they need religion to tell them how to live."

Religion doesn't create morals, as many would like to think, but rather is contributed to by morals that people have already had. "Don't murder, lie, perjure, and steal," for example, didn't just suddenly fall down from the sky as new knowledge that people weren't aware of. If this was suddenly new information, how could the human race even make it to the proverbial Mount Sinai? Religion draws from our morality and borrows from human insights - it's not the other way around. Sure, you might gain some sort of moral code or structure for life from religion, but you can have that without religion quite easily.

There's also an "easy compromise" and obvious counter to this argument; people can take what they like from religions, not be religious, not believe in anything supernatural, and lead a meaningful life from what they found in religious books. In this case, people live without being religious and do just fine. If you don't like this argument and want to say, "Aha! They did need religion, but just weren't religious," this doesn't work because we could still arrive at these conclusions without religion.

In my post discussing morality, I discuss how moral information is acquired, arrived at, and why it is desired...we don't need God to explain morality and we certainly don't need religion to be moral individuals.

We can have great social cohesion, answers to "life's questions," a fulfilling life, love, happiness, and everything else that we might need in life without religion. If you don't have the tools to arrive at understanding of how to live, you can acquire them.

Here are some responses to potential detractors:

"Religion provides Security"
Everyone has difficult times of stress, struggle, hardship, and pain throughout life. Some people might turn to religion to deal with hardships, but this isn't necessary. Although it might be comforting to believe that there is a higher purpose or divine reason for the bad parts of our lives, we don't need to believe this in order to endure struggles. It might be comforting to think that our dead loved ones are smiling down from Heaven, but we need not have these beliefs to cope with death. Although some people may not be able to cope with problems properly, there are people who can console others and teach them how to deal with tough times - we call those people friends, family members, psychologists, co-workers, and peers.

"Religion provides meaning"
In order to derive meaning from life, we don't need religion. We can decide what's important in our lives, assign subjective purpose, make life better for others, have fun, and inspire others. If I like writing, I'm going to go out there and do it because it's meaningful for me. I can create meaning in my life right now and be satisfied with this. Although my accomplishments and life won't be lasting forever, I don't despair or suddenly feel that life is meaningless. I don't need "cosmic significance" in order to feel accomplished or fulfilled.

"Religion provides authority and direction"
Some people say that we're not good enough to make decisions for ourselves and must submit to some sort of authority system in order to have some sort of direction, but I reject this. Even if we have an innate need for authority, we need not "resign" ourselves to religion and belief in God. We can have direction from significant others, friends, teachers, etc. As adults, we must accept the fact that we hold a great amount of responsibility. We exercise a great degree of self-determination and don't have people over our shoulders telling us what to do...and we should be okay with that. If we're not okay with that, we certainly don't need religion to fill the gap.

"If no religion, anything goes"
The fear that "anything goes" because someone is non-religious is unsubstantiated. Non-belief doesn't entail a murder spree and total disregard to other human beings. Atheists, just like believers, can be great upstanding moral individuals. Theist or atheist, most humans still want to follow laws, respect others, be charitable individuals, and make the world a better place. Don't have fear that non-belief means that anything is up for grabs and that people will behave poorly.

We tell stories about the unknown and want to have answers. We see divinity beyond what we can't explain or understand. It's attractive for many to cling to religion to answer the unknown, but we should be content not knowing and honestly adjust our beliefs and perceptions about life to deal with reality. Let's be intellectually honest, concerned about acquiring truth more than comfort, and face reality for what it is. We don't need religion to live and we certainly don't need religion to be good people.