The most harmful aspects of religion are those that arise from a holy book of some kind, because those books are the sources of rules and dogmas and create insider-outsider conflicts. When people lose their commitment to a text, then they are more likely to be accepting of diverse views.
What I think is interesting is the growth of what we might call ‘spiritual movements’ as an alternative to traditional religion. This article about the rising popularity of meditation as one of these alternatives.
Brach is riding a massive American wave of meditation, a mind-training practice meant to heighten self-awareness and compassion. Its popularity is particularly high among Americans who don’t identify with a particular religious affiliation, a group that’s grown from 7 percent to nearly 20 percent of the population since the early 1970s. In a nation of people busily crafting their own religion, meditation may be the new American prayer.
Brach is a Buddhist meditation teacher and member of the Buddhist clergy yet finds traditional Buddhist texts sexist and cold. She strips religious language out of her classes so as to not turn off secular types but worries about people not going deep.
Her followers include devout Catholics and Muslims, trauma-struck veterans and 12-steppers with a range of addictions.
For some, meditation’s spread raises questions. More conservative religious groups reject the idea that healing comes from within and not from God.
It strikes me that this kind of thing will be appealing to people who want to shift away from traditional religion but still want to be part of some sort of spiritual community, and so should be encouraged. While many such ‘spiritual’ beliefs are as evidence-free as traditional religion, they lead to much less social problems.
So while I believe that people are better off without religion, I recognize the strong need that some people have to hold on to some sense of the transcendent, that there is something bigger than themselves, a god even, and that such a belief gives them comfort. ‘Hard atheism’ of the kind that I hold that rejects the existence of the non-material may not be appealing to some people, at least initially.