Wednesday, November 30, 2011

WOULD the world be better off without religion?


Would the world be better off without religion?
In the opening decade of the 21st century, there is still debate on the question: “Would the world be better off without religion?” This archaic debate appears to be alive and flourishing, with a multitude of pros and cons, what-ifs and why-nots.

John Donvan of ABC News was the moderator for this most recent debate on Nov. 15. The Oxford-style debate was held in New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. An excellent place for such a debate: a play-acting, make believe venue.

The debate unfolded with Matthew Chapman and A.C. Grayling speaking for the motion that the world would be better off without religion. They contended that religious strife has been at the center of many wars; that a person can be good and moral without being religious; that blind religious faith denies the reality of the sciences.

Both men, renowned non-religious writers, none more famous than Matthew Chapman, the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin. With such a lineage he was a natural for denying the good of religion in world history. He is the author of “Trials Of The Monkey: An Accidental Memoir.”

Likewise A. C. Grayling, a British philosopher and professor, has written more than 20 books on philosophy, religion and reason. One book is aptly and humorously titled: “Against All Gods.”
On the side of religion were Rabbi David Wolpe and Dinesh D'Souza. They were against the motion that religion was not good for the world. They contended that religion not only was, but is a vital instrument in the stability of society; provides a moral compass; and provides many “why” answers – why things happen and what life is for.

David Wolpe, the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, was voted the best pulpit Rabbi by Newsweek. He is the author of seven books, including “Why Faith Matters.”

Dinesh D'Souza, author of “What's So Great About Christianity,” argued against the motion, believing that the world would not be better off without religion.

Following the debate the audience voted and 59 percent of them agreed the world would be better off without religion, while 31 percent disagreed. Ten percent of the audience remained undecided.
Nothing was resolved just as in the faux debates our politicians engage in these days. The age old questions remain: Does religion breed intolerance, violence, and the promotion of medieval ideas? Or should we concede that overall, it has been a source for good, giving followers purpose, while encouraging morality and ethical behavior?

Back in my Hong Kong days a neighbor friend was a television personality. He had a television talk and variety show on HK-TVB. On a whim he came up with a segment he called: “Is there a God?” The program aired live (this was before video tape) at five-thirty in the afternoon. It was only on the English language channel. If anyone was watching the program it was accidental.

It was really just a time filler and a lark for the Aussie moderator. I wish I could remember his name for he was a most likeable chap. Actually, I never met an Australian I didn’t like. My first cousin Joe Frank Johnson after flying for Air America during the Vietnam War liked Australia so much he and his wife and daughter settled there. Now he even talks like them. Australians are just good people who happened to grow up clinging to the bottom rim of the world.

The viewer’s vote came in 4 to 4 on there being a God. I suggested to the show’s producer that a more interesting debate might be along different lines, such as comparing the warrior-God of the Old Testament with the loving-God of the New Testament; or how does evil evolve from a religious conviction?

The debate will always be with us as long as religious and their non-religious neighbors continue to know so little about the subject.


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