The Terms of Judgement

There is something wrong with regarding religion as a means to obtain the exact things that we would want if it were totally false.

As soon as we speak of religion having utilitarian “value,” we have swallowed the pivotal assumption that all of us are in agreement as to what these values are. Even if this holds in a great many scenarios, it is still an unequivocally false assumption. While love and compassion are virtues to most of us, the explanations for this may vary. I may be compassionate because it gives me pleasure, and why is it important for anyone besides me to experience pleasure?

The moral values that religion speaks of are quite different from the moral feelings of human beings. It is the distinction between something that has significance, and something that has significance only to me. To say that religion is “helpful” or “hurtful” is a practical thing to do in conversation, but upon close inspection, it leaves out crucial information.

I must make the observation that religion cannot hold back man’s progress towards enlightenment until the non-religious define enlightenment. I must observe that the best way to do something is rarely self-delusion, and yet if religion contains no truth about the matters that it addresses, we should not expect it to be useful. As such, we ought not to debate the utility of religion before we are in agreement about what we are trying to accomplish—in agreement about what our core values actually are.

Religion is often critiqued based on how well it lives up to the values of the culture. If people experience guilt or limitations on their freedom, we tell them that religion is wrecking their lives. But religion is not wrecking their lives; it is wrecking the lives that you think they should live.

This is not an inadmissible critique, but it must be justified.


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