December 20, 2013

Does Anybody Really Need Religious Belief?

Lanza billboard 1024x298

This is American Atheists' latest billboard, the one that has been generating so much controversy after it went up in Times Square, NY. You can read more about the controversy at Friendly Atheist. I will not be addressing how New York State Senator Andrew Lanza has been making an ass of himself in this post. Instead, I'd like to ask what you think about the first line printed on this billboard. Is it true that "nobody needs the "Christ" in Christmas?" And more generally, is it true that nobody needs "Christ" at all?

Were we to focus only on Christmas, as this billboard does, I see nothing with which I can disagree. Nobody needs the "Christ" in Christmas, and this is in large part because nobody really needs Christmas at all. This does not mean that plenty of people don't enjoy it; they certainly do. I'm just not convinced that anybody really needs Christmas. And if nobody really needs it, the inclusion of "Christ" certainly seems unnecessary. But this really isn't what I want to address here. I want to consider the far broader question of whether anybody really needs "Christ," Christianity, or any other sort of religious belief at all.

To clarify, I am asking about religious belief here and not religious practices, institutions, groups, charities, and the like. Are there people out there in the world who genuinely need religious belief in their lives? I find this question just a bit vague, so I'll try to nail down what "need" might look like in this context. Are there people out there somewhere whose psychological/emotional well being and/or ability to function would be significantly impaired if not for their religious belief? I am not requiring that they would be unable to function at all, only that significant impairment would be evident in their well being or day-to-day functioning. So the question might look like this:
Are there people whose psychological/emotional well being and/or daily functioning would be significantly impaired if not for their religious belief?
If we were to answer this question in the affirmative, it would seem reasonable to conclude that some people really do need religious belief. A negative answer would seem to indicate that nobody really needs religious belief in any meaningful way.

So, what do you think? How would you answer this question? Are there people out there somewhere who do truly need religious belief?

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