Posts Tagged With: religion

Religion, Spirituality, Red Herrings, and Milgram

Religion is much maligned these days. Now I can’t deny that there have been religious groups who have caused great harm in the world, but there is a question as to if  Religion itself is causal to the harm, or if Religion is just taking the blame for a cause we are hesitant to admit. What if Religion is really just a Red Herring?

Religion, for instance, has been blamed for wars throughout history. However, actual research (and here) has found that few wars can truly be said to have been caused by religion. Many have tried to relate religious belief to mental illness, but actual research has found the opposite to be true. Many have tried to create a split between religion and spirituality, demonizing religion and clinging to spirituality, but this division is academic and not strongly grounded in actual research. Finally, there are a lot of people who try to portray religion as being antithetical to science, but actual science says differently, as research has confirmed that many scientists hold religious beliefs while still being scientifically literate and accomplished, and the National Academy of Sciences explicitly denies any inherent conflict between science and religion.

But despite the fact that most claims against Religion are not found to be true for Religion as a whole, the accusations continue with vehemence. So the question has to be asked, if the accusations are untrue, why do they persist? What psychological need is being served by blaming religion despite the facts showing otherwise? What aren’t we willing to face that causes us to distract ourselves with the false claims against religion?

Maybe Milgram has the answer. The infamous Milgram Experiment was designed to figure out why millions of Germans were complicit with the atrocities of Hitler and Nazi Germany. In the study, subjects were asked to administer electric shocks to people when they got certain questions wrong. Each time a shock was administered, it increased in intensity. If the subject was hesitant, the researchers would strongly insist they continue, and many would, even as the person being shocked screamed in pain and begged for it to stop.

Oh, and it was all staged.

What the study found is that people are obedient to a fault. All it took was a four verbal prompts, and people were willing to do the horrific even when it was against their better judgement.

And maybe that is what we are trying so hard to hide.

When you look at the majority of claims against Religion, they focus on how Religion causes people to fall into line, surrender their rational thought, and blindly follow the leader into death and destruction. But what Milgram found is that it doesn’t take Religious dogma, it doesn’t take threats of punishment or bribes with eternal rewards, and it doesn’t take the gaze of a quickly-angered deity. All it took was a man in a lab coat, and the majority of people fall into line. Within each of us is that weakness, and we loath it. Blaming religion just allows us to deny that truth. Because if we can make religion the reason for the problem, we can place the fault on something other than ourselves. All we have to do is deny our internal predisposition by blaming something externam and we are free of the knowledge that when we are pushed by any authority, we are more likely than not to fall into line and commit atrocious acts.

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