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Does religion encourage good behavior?

A religion is characterized by its set of ethical principles enshrouding a core of metaphysical beliefs. While atheists don't share such metaphysical beliefs, they often share many ethical principles with religious people, and believe that religion is on the whole beneficial if it helps people behave. However, other atheists more critical of religion believe that the unfounded nature of their beliefs provides the ultimate justification for immoral behavior.

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Experts and Influencers

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Experts In Religion

Andrew Newberg    Professor of Medicine, Psychiatry & Religion
Neuroscience [says] that the brain has two primary functions that can be considered from either a biological or evolutionary perspective: self-maintenance and self-transcendence. ... It turns out that religion also performs these two same functions. So, from the brain's perspective, religion is a wonderful tool because religion helps the brain perform its primary functions. Unless the brain undergoes some fundamental change in its function, religion and God will be here for a very long time.
12 Sep 2006    Source

Experts In Cognition

Robin Hanson    Economics Professor
[A cross-cultural study] confirms that moralizing Gods function to encourage cooperation in large societies, and adds moralizing gods, and fairness to strangers, to the many innovations that came with farming, such as war, slavery, marriage as property, class hierarchies and large wealth inequalities.
21 Mar 2010    Source

Experts In Physics

Albert Einstein    Physicist, Icon of the 20th Century
Mostly Agree
Nobody, certainly, will deny that the idea of the existence of an omnipotent, just, and omnibeneficent personal God is able to accord man solace, help, and guidance [...but...] the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.
01 Jan 1941    Source

Experts In Politics

Napoleon Bonaparte    Emperor of France
How can you have order in a state without religion? For, when one man is dying of hunger near another who is ill of surfeit, he cannot resign himself to this difference unless there is an authority which declares "God wills it thus." Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.
01 Jan 1800    Source

Experts In Christianity

Paul Johnson    Writer
More people were killed by totalitarian states (all atheistic) in the 20th century than in all previous periods of history. ... It's hard for most of us to face such a fearful world without some kind of faith to sustain us, without a traditional formula through which to express our longings for peace and safety. I believe that religion is a central part of our civilization. But even more than that, I believe religious faith to be an indispensable element to our peace of mind [and] happiness...
10 Oct 2007    Source

Experts In Physics

Steven Weinberg    Nobel Laureate in Physics
Mark Twain described his mother as a genuinely good person, whose soft heart pitied even Satan, but who had no doubt about the legitimacy of slavery, because in years of living in antebellum Missouri she had never heard any sermon opposing slavery, but only countless sermons preaching that slavery was God's will. With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.
01 Apr 1999    Source

Experts In Entertainment

Bill Maher    Political T.V. Host, Comedian
Yes, we are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion. I do believe that. I think that religion stops people from thinking. I think it justifies crazies. I think flying planes into a building was a faith-based initiative. I think religion is a neurological disorder.
16 Feb 2005    Source

Elton John    Musician, Pop Icon
From my point of view I would ban religion completely, even though there are some wonderful things about it. I love the idea of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the beautiful stories about it, which I loved in Sunday school and I collected all the little stickers and put them in my book. But the reality is that organised religion doesn't seem to work. It turns people into hateful lemmings and it's not really compassionate.
21 Aug 2006    Source

Experts In Cognition

Steven Pinker    Psychology Professor
Many people who accept evolution still feel that a belief in God is necessary to give life meaning and to justify morality. But that is exactly backward. In practice, religion has given us stonings, inquisitions and 9/11. Morality comes from a commitment to treat others as we wish to be treated, which follows from the realization that none of us is the sole occupant of the universe. Like physical evolution, it does not require a white-coated technician in the sky.
07 Aug 2005    Source

Experts In Skepticism

James Randi    Magician, Illusionist, Writer, Skeptic
I accuse the Christian god of murder by allowing the Holocaust to take place — not to mention the “ethnic cleansing” presently being performed by Christians in our world — and I condemn and vilify this mythical deity for encouraging racial prejudice and commanding the degradation of women.
01 Jan 1995    Source


Add Your TakeOnIt (click to expand, no login required)
0 Points      Capricious      25 Mar 2015      Stance on Question: Neutral
Such a broad question.

Because some religions are peaceful (like Taoism, Shintoism and Buddhism) and others are horrible.

0 Points      MTC      23 Feb 2013      Stance on Question: Disagree
There are examples of individuals who call themselves religious encouraging good behavior, but whether that is down to their religion is debatable. Those people have to pick and choose which parts of their religion to believe in, meaning it is not actually their religion that is encouraging the good behavior, but rather their own independent ideas of what is good and what is bad.

Other religious people pick other parts of their religion to believe in, and encourage bad behavior. Others (fundamentalists) try to believe all of their religion, and generally end up encouraging bad behavior.

As a result of all of that, I disagree with this question.

2 Points      Nashhinton      23 Nov 2011      Stance on Question: Mostly Disagree
Most moderate and eastern religions can encourage happiness, well being and extremely moral behavior. However certain forms of religious extremism have hindered societal and scientific progress by discouraging civil liberties and scientific exploration. Religious extremism usually justifies bigotry and intolerance against selected groups of people, such as homosexuals and nonbelievers. We can not advance humanity if most religions of the world teach intolerance against certain kinds of people. Most of the world's ills are caused by religions.

Also if one examines the research done by the Global Peace Index you will find that the majority of secular nations that have high populations of atheists tend to be more peaceful. Isn't it a little weird that the only two South American nations that have the highest population of atheists in South America are more peaceful according to the Global Peace Index? The South American nations that I speak of are Argentina and Uruguay. Yet it's highly strange that the remaining South American nations are less peaceful. Just look at Uruguay and Argentina from this map which shows the importance of religiosity of various countries: link

Atheistic nations are more peaceful. Here's the link to prove this: link.

Also, more religious states in the United States, such as the states found in the Bible belt of the south, all demonstrate higher teen pregnancy rates, higher homicide rates, higher illiteracy rates, and lower IQ rates. Here's the links to prove this: link link

Also, here's a whole collection of studies concerning atheists that might surprise you: link

0 Points      blacktrance      11 Feb 2011      Stance on Question: Neutral
Religion sometimes causes people to do bad things, and at other times to do good things.

1 Point      Chance      10 Apr 2010      Stance on Question: Mostly Disagree
I agree that a religon has the capacity encourage good behaviour, but whether or not it does depends on both the religion and the public's view of what is good behaviour. A religion may, depending on the current views, both dicourage murder, and encourage the stoning of [insert visible minority]. As such, those devout to the religion are, in following what they consider 'good behavior', participating in both 'good' and 'bad' behaviour. As such, religions have the power to encourage all kinds of behaviour, and so, in theory, could encourage good behaviour.

...Of course, religions being the strict and unyielding institutions they are, they tend to lack the abilty to change to fit what is truly 'good' behaviour. So in reality, does religion encorage good behavior? Rarely.