This critique of the New Atheists (so very unchanged from the old) takes an entirely different tack than I usually see. The author doesn't attempt to prove or disprove the validity of belief in gods or the lack thereof, but instead points out that religion makes people happy. So we should cherish it. Especially for those poor people in developing countries, who have so little reason to be happy.
Not only should the more rational and therapeutic elements be distilled from the opiate of religion. But the wacky, superstitious, cloud-cuckoo-land forms of religion, too, should be cherished and preserved, for those forms of religion sometimes do great good for our emotional lives, even when they compromise our more-rational lives.
Here's the thing. I rarely take issue with what makes people happy. For one thing, it's not really my business. For another, I know that happiness is fleeting, yet entirely worthwhile, so if collecting string provides you with happiness, far be it from me to comment.
I will, however, take issue with what makes you happy when it's harming you or others. Collecting string is harmless fun- until you start spending your entire paycheck on string and your house becomes so packed with string that it's dangerous to live in. I will also take issue with your string collecting when it starts to harm your children and your neighbors.
Religion is the same way, especially religion that infringes upon rational facilities. I don't have an issue with people believing in god and attending church or enacting rituals naked under each full moon. Whatever makes you happy. But when that religion starts inspiring you to legislate its rules or deny civil rights to your gay neighbors or withhold medical treatments from your children, that's when I find no issue with stepping in.
I especially take issue with religion in the developing world, which is what this article is about. I have no idea what it is to be poor in the developing world. I can't even imagine. So I understand the argument that religion provides happiness to people who have little to be happy about, ever. I even understand the argument that religious people provide necessary charity in the developing world, without which life would be even worse.
However, I find religion in the developing world, especially as proselytized by privileged Westerners, to be abusive. "Let me tell you about Jesus" is a little different from "Here's the only clean water in 100 miles- now let me tell you about Jesus." I especially take issue with missionaries who care only for the spiritual welfare of their
victims intended converts. (You see this in super evangelical communities.) "Hey, don't worry about improving your lot in life or even drinking water that does not contain feces- we've got heaven! It's great!"
Anyway, the author also seems to think the New Atheists don't go far enough- they condemn Christianity and Islam, but not East Asian animism. There's a reason for that: the average American or Western European has little to no experience or knowledge of animism, and nothing makes you look stupider than criticizing something you have absolutely no knowledge of. (See: every evangelical Christian's critique of Islam) Never mind that "you go too far!" is an odd argument to juxtapose with "you don't go far enough!"
Is animism a mere "opiate," as the atheists argue? Well, yes, but don't underestimate opiates. They can be highly inspirational and consoling. After all, a drunken man is usually a little happier than a sober one. In fact, to continue the metaphor, opposing religion is a lot like prohibitionists' opposing drink—a rather cruel project in my view. I'd gladly give my copies of Mao's Little Red Book, and Dawkins's The God Delusion for a six-pack of Grolsch. But if all that is too offensive, we might replace the word "opiate" with "analgesic," and my point may be more agreeable.
Um, sure some drunks are happier, though some people get morose or pugilistic while drunk, and anyway, you may be happier drunk, but it's not a good idea to be drunk on a regular basis. "Analgesic" doesn't make that argument more agreeable to me. I'm on painkillers 24/7, and have been for years, just like the religious in your argument. It's not like they're only religious a few times a month, which is how often I think healthy people take analgesics. (I really don't know.) Being on painkillers constantly is a problem. It's bad for your body and it reflects a much larger problem: if I were even close to being healthy, I wouldn't have to take painkillers constantly. I'd call this an analogy fail, but it's actually the best analogy I've heard in a while, the author just doesn't realize the import of it.
So how do we discriminate between dangerous and benign religions? That is the more fruitful question, because it invites the other world religions into the discussion.
No, it's not. It's not. Trying to figure out whose invisible pink unicorn is prettier is a waste of time. Some religions lend themselves more readily to abuse, but none of them are true. Helping the developing world will not be accomplished to trying to find the least dangerous religion for people to believe in. It will be accomplished by improving the situation and lives of the people to the point where they don't need emotional aspirin anymore. (Yeah, don't ask me how to do that, I have no idea.)
In short, the reduction of human suffering should be the standard by which we measure every religion.
How about it's truth? Really, we can't judge religions by truth? We can't demand proof? It seems more than a little condescending to say that people in developing nations cannot adopt logical thinking or the scientific method. It's not like religion has changed the plight of people in developing nations, maybe we do need to try that.