II. There are good reasons to be SKEPTICAL about religion and religious beliefs.
A. Religion is NOT the key to Happiness and Virtue.
RELIGION AND HAPPINESS
Religion or religious belief is often thought to be the key to happiness, and religion is often promoted as being the key to happiness.
On the Christian website ExploreGod.com there is an article called “The Secret to Happiness” by Ben Sharp. In it, Sharp promotes Christianity as the key to happiness:
It’s in Jesus Christ, God’s son, that real happiness—happiness that transcends this world’s definition—is found. Jesus’ perfect life, the death he suffered on the cross, and his resurrection provide true hope—both for this life and the one to come.
The forgiveness he provides for our failures and transgressions gives us a deep and lasting peace, contentment, and happiness.
Other religions are also sold on the basis of the religion being the key to happiness. For example, on the Muslim website IqraSense.com we find the offer of a free book called The Key to Happiness. This book promotes Islam as the key to happiness:
Chapter Two: Benefits of the Islamic Way of Life
The Islamic way of life is indeed one that will achieve for its followers true happiness, on the condition that one follows its commandments and refrains from its prohibitions. …
Chapter Three: How to Attain True Happiness
True happiness is attained through a number of key fundamental beliefs… Whoever believes in Allah and in His Oneness will be guided to the path of happiness. His heart will be content, and he will live in a state of pure tranquility. …
Newspapers and magazines often put forward the idea that religion tends to make people happy:
“Religion is a sure route to true happiness” – editorial from The Washington Post
“Religion can make you happier, official figures suggest” – article from The Telegraph
But there are good reasons to doubt that religion is actually the key to happiness. If it is not actually the case that religion is the key to happiness, then a widely-held belief about religion is false, and a widely used reason in support of religion is mistaken. It is possible, of course, that a religion is completely true (or mostly true) even if that religion is NOT the key to happiness. So, showing that a religion is not the key to happiness does not disprove that religion, and showing that religion in general is not the key to happiness does not show that all religions are foolish or mistaken.
However, if religion is not the key to happiness, then that is a GOOD REASON to be skeptical about religion and religious belief, because (a) this shows that a widely-held belief about religion that is often asserted by religious leaders is mistaken, and (b) it seems likely that if a religion was completely true (or mostly true), it would be the key to happiness. Although it is possible for a religion to be completely true (or mostly true) but fail to be the key to happiness, it seems more likely that a true (or mostly true) religion would be the key to happiness. So, to the extent that a religion is NOT the key to happiness, we should at least be SKEPTICAL about the idea that the religion is completely or mostly true. If religion in general is disconnected from happiness, that doesn’t prove that religion is foolish or a delusion, but it does give one a reason to doubt the truth and wisdom of religion.
Some Obvious Facts:
- Some atheists are very happy people.
- Some people who believe in God are very unhappy people.
- Some people who are not religious are very happy people.
- Some people who are religious are very unhappy people.
From these obvious facts, we may conclude that (a) being religious is NOT a requirement for being happy, and that (b) being religious does NOT guarantee that one will be happy. In short, there is NOT a simple and direct relationship between religion and happiness. However, even if religion is not required for happiness and does not guarantee happiness, it could still be the case that religion HELPS people to be happy, or to be more happy than they would otherwise be.
DOES RELIGION HAVE A POSITIVE CORRELATION WITH HAPPINESS?
There are many empirical studies that appear to show that religion has a positive correlation with happiness. However, there are a number of important caveats and qualifications that need to be taken into consideration here:
- Viewed in geographic terms, religion has a NEGATIVE correlation with happiness.
- Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures happiness.
- Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures religion/religiousness.
- In several countries religion does NOT have a positive correlation with happiness.
- When a study does find a positive correlation between religion and happiness, it is usually a weak correlation.
- There are a number of other factors that have a significantly stronger positive correlation with happiness.
- The correlation between religion and happiness appears to be bi-modal: religious people tend towards both greater happiness and also greater unhappiness compared to non-religious people.
To be continued…