A discussion of a new book - God is Back: How the Revival of Religion is Changing the World, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge - on the issue of religion, sounds like a sensible position:
I wondered if they realised the alarm with which rationalists and atheists would greet their suggestions that as democracy increases around the world we should expect to see the emergence of more “parties of God”. Did they recognise that this was a kind of nightmare for many of us? “If the parties of God are Hezbollah then they are nightmares for us too,” says Micklethwait. “The thing is, when democracy is concerned the secular-minded always think that people will go off and vote for ‘normal guys’ but of course they don’t. It’s not just the most oppressed who do this – in India and Turkey the educated bourgeoisie, exactly the people who should be the most secular, the driving force of the economy, have flooded towards religiously inspired parties.”
This is not necessarily a welcome development for either Micklethwait or Wooldridge. They are pragmatists. Religion is there, and you have to deal with it.
Check out an interview with Daniel Dennett here. There’s some more stuff on that website as well. The interviewer – Robert Wright – is extremely annoying and almost completely useless as an interviewer, but if you can manage to get used to his style, it’s a good interview.
A great article of the relationship between religious beliefs and niceness – Does Religion Make You Nice? – that raises some interesting issues:
Arguments about the merits of religions are often battled out with reference to history, by comparing the sins of theists and atheists. (I see your Crusades and raise you Stalin!) But a more promising approach is to look at empirical research that directly addresses the effects of religion on how people behave.
In Gross National Happiness, Arthur Brooks notes that atheists are less charitable than their God-fearing counterparts: They donate less blood, for example, and are less likely to offer change to homeless people on the street. Since giving to charity makes one happy, Brooks speculates that this could be one reason why atheists are so miserable. In a 2004 study, twice as many religious people say that they are very happy with their lives, while the secular are twice as likely to say that they feel like failures.
So religion makes you happy and you give more blood? Not so fast, writes Paul Bloom:
A 2005 study by Gregory Paul looking at 18 democracies found that the more atheist societies tended to have relatively low murder and suicide rates and relatively low incidence of abortion and teen pregnancy.
Not to give away the answer, but it’s all apparently about the community, not beliefs – it’s a great piece, worth reading in full.