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The Limits of Religious Benefits
There are many benefits to religion - but there can also be drawbacks
In the introduction to this series of posts, Why Judaism?, I explained that I will be presenting a discussion of various benefits of religion. Before doing so, I need to issue some clarifications and qualifications.
Most of the benefits that we will describe are not unique to Judaism. They can be found in many religions. Judaism itself maintains that there are religious paths for non-Jews that are praiseworthy.
The reason why I will be largely focusing on the benefits of religion in general rather than Judaism in particular is very simple: the scientific studies which exist for the various benefits of religion, and which are being used as the basis for this series of posts, are not religion-specific. I’m not aware of any scientific studies regarding the benefits of Judaism specifically. But if you’re born Jewish, then naturally Judaism would be the religion that is the best fit, and which would be best positioned to provide the benefits. I will also be presenting a personal and totally biased perspective on why I feel that Judaism has various advantages over other religions.
It should be made clear that there can also be drawbacks to religion. Religion can suppress critical thinking or openness to beneficial change. Some religious approaches include aspects that can be extremely harmful or which run the risk of leading to harm. For example, the modern Lithuanian charedi rejection of the ideal of working for a living has a variety of tremendously harmful consequences—on a personal level, a societal level and a national level. Mystical worldviews in which certain people have supernatural abilities are ripe for producing manipulative predators who take advantage of their followers. Religious beliefs in national superiority or the rights to certain resources can lead to deadly conflict.
Even the aspects of religion (or any system) that are beneficial to many people can be harmful for some people. As Rambam says in the Guide 3:34, the laws of the Torah are designed for the improvement of society in general, but there could be certain situations or certain people for whom they are not beneficial or could even be harmful.
Nevertheless, as we shall see, the benefits of religion are numerous. In the past I’ve written an abundance of posts criticizing various problems with certain religious approaches, but this series of posts will be dedicated to pointing out the benefits of religion.
I should also clarify that any degree of religious observance can provide some degree of benefit. But in order to gain the full benefit, it doesn’t help to just keep whichever aspects of religion are appealing. The full benefits only occur as a result of commitment to a way of life. And that means the full package. This doesn’t mean that there is never any area of weakness, but it does mean that there is a general commitment.
I will say that I found some of the reactions to my introduction to this series of posts to be disturbing, from the extremes in both directions. Certain post-religious atheists seem to be determined to argue that religion is not only false but also harmful. While their bitterness against religion is perhaps understandable, it’s still distressing that they are so determined to avoid acknowledging any benefit in religion, no matter what the evidence.
At the other end of the spectrum, certain charedi zealots seem to want to delegitimize any evidence that I bring for the benefits of religion. The reason for this is not clear; perhaps they feel threatened by religions other than Judaism also being beneficial, or perhaps they want people to be religious just because of pure faith and not for any other reason. But most likely it’s just part of the mission of delegitimizing Slifkin, no matter what the cost.
While I like to give everyone an opportunity to voice their opinion, I do not want the comments section to be swamped by trolls, as happened previously. Repeated comments on the main thread by the same characters will be deleted.
To be continued!
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