11 January 2013

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Why are religions so successful? + News

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing a topical issue: Why are religions so successful?

And despite our standing rule that we don't discuss local politics or religion I think that the
question is broad enough to withstand the rigours of a discussion. In my short essay, I do propose
an argument that makes our understanding of religions more realistic.

But first a message from David Butler on the visits to the British cemetery in Madrid:

Redacto el presente mensaje tanto en español como en inglés con el objeto de comunicarles el
programa de visitas guiadas, los sábados por la mañana, al Cementerio Británico.

Las visitas empiezan a las 11 horas en la entrada del Cementerio Británico, calle del Comandante
Fontanes 7, distrito de Carabanchel
*sábado, día 19 de enero, cuando daré las explicaciones en español
*sábado, día 26 de enero, cuando daré las explicaciones en inglés.
*sábado, día 2 de febrero, cuando daré las expilcaciones en español

Lo dejo a su elección cuál día acuda y no hay necesidad de avisar.

Si prefiere hacer la visita en una fecha no programada por la presente lista, no hay más que avisarme.

Tomen nota de nuestra página web < www.britishcemeterymadrid.com > que contiene información de la
historia del Cementerio y el mapa de su ubicación


I am writing this in both Spanish and in English to provide the programme of Saturday morning guided
visits to the British Cemetery.

We meet at 11 o'clock at the Cemetery entrance in Calle del Comandante Fontanes 7 in Carabanchel
* the visit on Saturday 9th January will be in Spanish
* the visit on Saturday 26th January will be in English *the visit on Saturday 2nd February will be
in Spanish

The choice of date is left to you and there is no needing tell me in advance of the visit whether
you are coming.
If you would like a visit on a different date, just let me know and I will arrange it.

Do take note of our website < www.britishcemeterymadrid.com > where you will find details of the
Cemetery's history and a map of its location.
David Butler

See you Sunday,

Take care


PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao

Thursday's Open Tertulia in English
Important Notice: From December 1st, the Tertulia will take place at O'Donnells (ex-Moore's) Irish
Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

Why are religions so successful?

The very short answer is that many of them do work and function well, and that some select people do
benefit from religions.

However, our most serious misconception is that just because something functions well, i.e.
successful, we assume it must be good or it must be true.

For example, the placebo effect of religion on certain type of people has been well documented with
the scientific method. The other success of many religions is that they are logistically well
organised usually across borders and of course religions are, if anything, a very well organised
networking group. In this respect people can easily benefit from these well placed organisations.

The issue for us is not what justifies the existence of religions, that 's another story, but what
makes religions successful or how are they successful?

The way that religions are presented today just doesn't make sense; many different gods, conflicting
beliefs, antiquated ides and so on. In other words they come across as an incongruity of logic. But
this is because they have nothing to do with any deity matters; no self respecting god would allow
such a shambles in our thinking. And secondly there is nothing ethical about religions.

The fact that there are so many religions suggests that a religion is a very local phenomenon. Each
with its own form of god or gods and rules of faith. But these are at odds with the way human beings
report universal phenomena. For example no one would deny that the moon over the Sahara desert is
the same moon we see over Yorkshire or Paris- not so with god or gods.

And of course, the reason why religions, contrary to common belief, are not ethical or moral
institutions is because they discriminate against minorities, their own members and of course other
religions. And one of the necessary conditions for an ethical or moral principle is that it is
universal and universalizable. In other words we cannot on the one hand proclaim charity and
forgiveness as moral principles and on the other discriminate and condemn people because they are
different from us.

Indeed, I would argue that religions are successful because they are not ethical and universal
institutions. So because religions are neither ethical nor universal their influence is established
on an ad hoc basis. There are no established principles when some dogma becomes invalid. Dogma
allows religions to pick and choose who benefits from religion; subscription to the relevant
religion is usually one of favourable criteria.

Ironically, on the other hand, it is because of its universal and universalizable characteristics
that makes the scientific method ethical and moral. Under this method if something is beneficial for
one person under a given set of circumstances then it is beneficial for all people who meet the
conditions of those circumstances.

Of course some might object that dogma is changed when god illuminates the chosen representatives.
There is one single objection to this argument - this is incompatible with the idea of
infallibility. And as far as we are concerned there is nothing we can do about infallibility as
human beings. The only way the infallibility principle holds is if the representatives are also
infallible but for this to happen they must be gods. And although many have assumed they were
infallible as representatives of god none that are of any consequence have claimed to be the god,
for monotheism, or gods for the others. In effect, whatever involves human beings must follow human
rules: a principle we have known about for a good two thousand years.

So what are religions and what makes them successful if they are not what they claim to be? To make
sense of religions we have to consider them more as political parties than ethical or institutions
pertaining to a god. Both deal with distribution of power (who do we obey?), scarce resources
(wealth distribution fair labour contracts or charity) and management of life (pray for a miracle or
establish a health care system).

The fact that religions discriminate against other religions makes them partisan. And the fact that
religions discriminate against people makes them predatory. Except of course that modern political
parties are not as predatory as they used to be or as religions are. Today nepotism and favouritism
are more or less condemned every where even though not every country tries to stop these predatory

In effect religions are more akin to political movements than some earthly representation of
supernatural forces. Their main issue is how we live on this Earth, the rest is just spin, pr and

Best Lawrence

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Why are religions are so successful? + News

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