Posed as a disjunction, the question assumes (and by inference, these opposing authors assume) that religion cannot be both absurd, in the colloquial sense of illogical or laughably false, and good for the world, in the sense of furthering what humans rightly value.How can something absurd also be good?
For example, it may be manifestly untrue that there is an all-knowing supernatural being, such as a god, spirit, or ancestor that is concerned with everyday moral behavior and monitors the thoughts and actions of group members. But believing this to be the case might very well encourage cooperation and suppress free-riding, behaviors that help to solve collective action problems that attend to living in large, unrelated groups.I was thinking of the peculiar possibility of good and absurd while reading an article about evidenced based medicine in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. The writer reports that hospitals and clinics in Utah and Idaho have been using a new system of evidence based medicine, under the leadership of a very science oriented observant Mormon named Brent James. With apologies to Mormons everywhere, I have to say that Mormonism is a real stand out when it comes to absurdities. The reporter intimates that part of the success of the initative--it seems to be saving thousands of lives--comes from a shared religion.
More than half of the state’s residents are Mormons. This homogeneity creates a noticeable sense of community, even a sense of mission, among many Intermountain doctors and nurses.The good effects of religion seem to be overlooked when people like Sam Harris blame liberal religionists for giving faith a good name, and thereby sustaining malignant religious practises. If unitarians and reform Jews can be blamed (even a bit) for Osama bin Laden, then they also have to be given credit (just a bit) for Brent James.
I like Powell's point that the very thing that makes religion beneficial can also make it harmful.
...the same emotional commitment mechanisms that allow religion to play a role in motivating morally aversive behavior, such as violence directed at an out-group (or toward a dissenting minority within), are the same psychological processes that make religion such an effective binding force within groups, encouraging altruism between group members and improving their intra-psychic wellbeing by instilling a sense of belonging.That defines the task of liberalizing religion--getting that sense of belonging to function entirely for the good.