Religion is like a Placebo

Question: Can religion be a force for good?

Sam Harris: I’m not saying that religion can’t ever be useful or inspire good things.  It certainly can, and has, and will.  And that’s better than the alternative. 

But there’s a distinction. 

We have to recognize there’s a distinction between something being true and something being useful.  Every benign religion, every religion that’s actually helping somebody sometimes could be functioning like a placebo.  It could be totally barren of content and still useful in certain circumstances. 

I could invent a religion right now which we know is not true, and would be extremely useful if I could spread it to billions.  I could invent it right now.  This religion is, the principles are, “Do your best to love your neighbor, and your family, and every person you meet. Encourage your children to study science and mathematics to the best of their abilities. And if you don’t do this, you will be punished for eternity by 17 demons after death.” 

Now I have no doubt that if I could spread this to billions, this would be a better religion than the religions we’ve got.  It would be better than Christianity, and Judaism, and Islam.  You’d have no suicide bombers.  What you would have is a generation of children bearing down on science and mathematics to the best of their abilities, encouraged by their otherwise ethical parents, all under the compulsion of “do this or else these 17 demons will torture you for eternity.” 

We would live in a much better world, no question.  Would the useful of this suggest for a moment that the 17 demons actually exist?  Would it provide a reason to believe in these 17 demons?  Not even slightly.  So that’s the divide here. 

There’s a big difference between the utility of an idea, or the consoling nature of an idea, or the idea that God has a plan for me, or everything happens for a reason, and the idea that these there are consoling, are quite distinct from whether there are good reasons to believe them.

Recorded on: Jul 4 2007.

Every benign religion, every religion that’s actually helping somebody sometimes could be functioning like a placebo. It could be totally barren of content and still useful in certain circumstances.

How to bring more confidence to your conversations

Entrepreneur and author Andrew Horn shares his rules for becoming an assured conversationalist.

content.jwplatform.com
Videos
  • To avoid basing action on external validation, you need to find your "authentic voice" and use it.
  • Finding your voice requires asking the right questions of yourself.
  • There are 3-5 questions that you would generally want to ask people you are talking to.
Keep reading Show less

Bespoke suicide pods now available for death in style

Sarco assisted suicide pods come in three different styles, and allow you to die quickly and painlessly. They're even quite beautiful to look at.

The Sarco assisted suicide pod
Technology & Innovation

Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco! 

Keep reading Show less

Scientists find a horrible new way cocaine can damage your brain

Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.

Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
  • Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
  • Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Keep reading Show less