Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Religion as behavior modification

One of the arguments for religion is behavior modification -- the notion that religion moderates the behavior of people who would otherwise do bad things. The above song, a rather unique stomp-clap version of God's Gonna Cut You Down, is a perfect example of that argument for religion. Bad people, the song says, should behave because otherwise God will send you to Hell. And if you're a good person, you shouldn't feel bad that bad people won't get what they deserve here on Earth, because God'll cut them down sooner or later and send them to Hell, so there.

The problem, though, is that it just doesn't work. Priests and reverends diddling children, mullahs calling for death to the infidel, Jewish rabbis calling for the extermination of Palestinians as "cockroaches"... the problem being that the people that religion is supposed to control simply do not believe the precepts of the religion, and instead re-write the religion to say what they want it to say, whether that's killing Jews for Jesus during the Spanish Inquisition, killing Christians for Allah in today's Iraq, whatever. Instead, they use religion as behavior control to do bad things on a mass scale. The Holocaust was perpetrated by a Christian nation, after all, and Adolph Hitler opposed atheism as official Nazi policy, instead using religion as part of his spur to get Germans to do what he wanted.

Furthermore, by removing the pressure to punish people here on Earth, religion can actually increase injustice here on Earth. If there is a bad man in your community, a Sheriff who kills disabled prisoners charged with minor crimes like public drunkenness for example because he refuses to provide proper care for them, what will get more justice -- him getting indicted for murder and sent to his own jail, or waiting for him to die and go to Hell? Right now, a lot of the people just shrug and say, "God'll cut him down sooner or later." But what if they did not believe in any religion? Then they would have incentive to make sure justice was done now, not many years from now -- and many prisoners otherwise killed by this Sheriff would live.

In short, religion has no positive effect on human behavior, and possibly even some negative effect insofar as it allows people to excuse injustice with "oh well, he'll go to Hell when he dies so it doesn't matter." One thing you have to say about atheists. At least they've never used religion to motivate people to exterminate other people. Granted, some atheists have been nasty folks -- e.g., Josef Stalin. But all that goes to say is that religion doesn't seem to have any effect on whether people do bad things, and thus the argument that religion serves to get better behavior from human beings is just so much bunkum. Choose religion for some other reason -- fellowship, recreation, or really tasty herring, for example -- not because you think religion will make you a better person. Because it won't. The behavior modification argument for religion simply does not fly.

-- Badtux the Tuxologist Penguin


  1. I disagree, religion does have a positive affect on humanity.

    Religion causes people to be so delusional that they may become optimistic even in the most cynical situation.

    Other than that it sucks.

  2. So now we know the *real* reason for the War on Drugs, hmm? Because drugs have the same effect as religion on the human psyche, and thus are a possible competitor to religion as the opiate for the masses. Hmm...

    - Badtux the Cynical Penguin

  3. You have hit on one of my great frustrations with religion. The idea that I should be motivated by the fact I will be rewarded or punished by some great sky wizard is offensive to me. When I was young, the idea that I might get a spanking if I misbehaved definitely shaped my behavior. As I got older, I internalized the ideas of right and wrong; I no longer need behaviorist feedback to analyze the consequences of my actions. If I HADN'T gone through this maturation, I doubt any kind of feedback (or threat thereof) would really constrain my behavior- at least if I thought no one else was looking.

    Perhaps one way to look at it is that thousands of years ago, we needed that threat hanging over our head to motivate ourselves to behave like moral and responsible adults. Now religion simply serves as a rationalizing excuse to remain immature and childish- the only reason to act well is that God'll gitcha if you don't. So they try to get away with as much as they think they can when no one is looking.

  4. Keep the drugs, lose the religion, say I!


  5. I think you'll enjoy this song as well:

    I'm an enthusiastic atheist, and I'm going to disagree with you about religion. While I agree that the arguments against religion as a punitive measure are right on the money, I think that for some people, religion is aspirational rather than punitive -- they find that religion gives them a reason to want to improve themselves. It's not that God will punish them for being bad, it's that being good will bring them closer to their sky wizard.

    These are the folks who don't abstain from drink because it's evil -- they're the ones who have a tall one after they come home from a shift at the soup kitchen and thank their god that they're not the ones needing the free food. Would these same people be good, generous people without religion? Probably. But religion gives them a framework to make sense of their impulses towards kindness.

    My own opinion is that religion reinforces what people already are: generous people give more, judgmental people judge more, angry people have more to be angry at when god comes into the picture.

  6. I don't know... I think it could be argued, as you pointed out, that even those supposedly RELIGION-less (well-informed agnostics *giggle*) aren't the most 'action oriented' people around. I think it all really comes down to one's level of laziness, willlpower, and confidence. Being to lazy to get off your butt to help the prisoners the sheriff is hurting is pure laziness, no matter what you beleive. Him going to hell is just an excuse to BE that way. Or you could be afraid of taking action, maybe becaus eyou wouldn't know where to begin or how to go about getting justice.

    I dunno if RELIGION is the cause, but I think this deffinately says soemthing about human nature.

  7. Have you watched Bill Maher's film Religilous? He basically comes to the same conclusion you've stated.

    I dig that Johnny Cash song.

  8. As a point of historical accuracy, Stalin's mother was a religious fanatic and his last formal education was in a seminary with his mother hoping for him to be "called".

    He also opened all the churches during WWII to inspire the masses to die for Mother Russia.

    He may not have been personally religious, but he knew how to use it.

  9. Badtux, the war on drugs is business, nada mas, and the US is funding both sides of it.

    You might hve labeled this post

    Badtux the asking for disagreement penguin.


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