Atheistic explanation of religious prohibitions?

I used to belong to this religion that imposed a long list of prohibitions on it’s members. I’ll name a few — e.g. no dancing, no wearing jewelry, no drinking wine, no going to the movies, no wearing make-up. Some of these things are permissible in the Bible. What is your atheistic opinion as to why these prohibitions are imposed?

Posted: July 11th 2011


Religious prohibitions are about two things.

First, they are about reinforcing the difference between us and them. They are sinful,and participate in these things. We are godly because we don’t.

Second, it’s about control. This is common in most religions; believers are encouraged to take the “revealed morality” (which just coincidentally happens to be what the leaders of the church personally want) and use it instead of their own morality.

Different sects have different levels of rule-making.

Posted: July 14th 2011

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Dave Hitt www

There’s also the matter of control. Prohibitions against movies, TV and music, as well as prohibitions or limitations on what one can read and who they can associate with, make it difficult for members to be exposed to new ideas, ideas that might get them thinking that their religion/cult is not The Truth. (Many high control groups refer to their beliefs as The Truth, and you can hear the capital letters when they say it.) Members are taught to avoid anything that might challenge their beliefs because those beliefs are too fragile to stand up to any real scrutiny.

Posted: July 14th 2011

See all questions answered by Dave Hitt

Daniel Midgley www

The beliefs and practices of a group can serve to forge a group identity, and one that’s not easily shrugged off. From this page :

The truth is common property. You can’t distinguish your group by doing things that are rational, and believing things that are true. If you want to set yourself apart from other people, you have to do things that are arbitrary, and believe things that are false.

This explains why religions forbid arbitrary things, like excluding certain foods or activities for no reason, wearing certain hats, or — you name it.

But why focus on such trivialities? Well, a common tactic for religions is to start the member on a set of small commitments, which then escalate to big ones. Giving someone else the ability to choose your diet or mode of dress is a precursor to letting them determine your schedule, sexual behaviour, and life goals. And once you’ve given them these things, what else would you withhold from them? Churches benefit enormously from this kind of loyalty.

This ties into what I call the “investment trap”: http://goodreasonblog.blogspot.com/2007/03/deconversion-stories-investment-trap.html . Not everyone will invest in a demanding religion, but the few who do will be increasingly unwilling to write off the investment. The more and the longer you invest in the belief system, the less likely you are to conclude that you were fooled by an unworthy cause. Fortunately, many people are coming to exactly that conclusion.

Posted: July 14th 2011

See all questions answered by Daniel Midgley

brian thomson www

I don’t know if there are “atheistic” explanations for any of this: why should we care, just because we are atheists? There’s already a scientific field – anthropology – that examines people, the things that people do, and why, and that’s a more suitable place to look for explanations. First of all, it should be clear that many “religious” prohibitions did not start out as “religious” at all: they were social and cultural, and were adopted in to religions later. Religions are a relatively new phenomenon e.g. the religion you allude to in your question is about 1,600 years old, no more, and there can be no serious suggestion that everything “in” it was created at that time, from scratch: it reflects the society of the time.

An example I’ve used before is the ban on Pork in Judaism, which was carried forward as-is in to Islam, but not in to Christianity. What did the pig do wrong? Nothing: it’s just that people did not know how to prepare it safely. After animals were slaughtered, before the days of refrigeration, their meat was “hung”, typically in a tent – a method that worked for sheep, goats etc. but backfired badly with Pork. The meat would go off, there were parasites that caused Trichonosis, and other problems. So it was banned outright, and how do you enforce a ban in a primitive tribal society, if reasonable measures fail? You make it a religious proscription. By the time Christianity was invented, however, people had learned to cure Pork with salt to make ham, and so “Jesus” felt safe saying “it’s OK to eat”. Islam came much later – yet they still banned Pork: I guess they couldn’t spare the salt!

You can do the same mental exercise for any religious prohibition you care to name. People get drunk and do stupid things? Ban alcohol. Men can’t control their hormones in public? Ban dancing and the sight of skin. The whole “prohibition” mentality is not limited to religion, but it basically entails hiding anything that people can’t handle as they are, instead of teaching them how to handle it. Religion serves as an enforcement mechanism, a way of controlling people, as well as a way of hiding hypocrisy: “do as I say, not as I do”, sayeth the priest.

Posted: July 14th 2011

See all questions answered by brian thomson


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