Kwame Anthony Appiah: Is religion good or bad? (This is a trick question)

An interesting TED I watched yesterday and recommend.

I think it might be about 80% what I think about it all.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. Eugenia on June 17, 2014 at 18:54

    I don’t get his point really. My belief is that science and spirituality one day would come together, when we’re evolved enough technologically to be able to prove other realms of Being.

    In the beginning he has a list of religions and sects among these religions. He mentions how different these religions are. The part that he fails to mention though is that the mystical parts of these religions (e.g. theosophy for Christianity, Kabbalah for Judaism, Sufism for Islam, and the Eastern and tribal religions almost unchanged) are not different from each other. In fact, they’re the same, because they all describe the same thing (we’re all One etc etc). Did you know for example that the Kabbalah (Judaism) believes in re-incarnation? Or that some Islamist Sufists also believe in re-incarnation? In reality, there are no major disagreements about the essence of all things between any of these traditions. That’s why you never see a Sufist planting a bomb, or an actual monk raping a child. Not to mention that the people who do shrooms, LSD or DMT have the same mystical experiences as the mystics, experiencing the same things! So there’s definitely something to all that.

    But you see, the types of religions that 99% of the population are into, are simply the “pop” versions of these beliefs, which are controlled and manipulated and based on fear. So, there’s a difference between walking the spiritual path (that is the same for most mystical beliefs), and organized religion. It’s the organized religions that is the problem, not the spiritual truths they were originally based upon.

    I consider myself spiritual (I was an atheist for over 10 years before I transformed just last year at age 40), but I have no trouble at all with science. Science simply describes our physical world with great precision. It is an invaluable tool and something we should cherish. But spirituality has broaden my horizons even more in a *different* way, and has helped me find my place in the universe.

    So for the question of “is religion good or bad”, one has to answer these questions:
    – Is the religion we’re talking about one of these pop/organized religions? The ones that require “a guru” or sorts? If yes, sure it’s “bad” (for some definition of bad as you will see below).
    – What if religion (in it’s “pop” form) was required until now, as the human consciousness was evolving? What if it was a tool (even if an illusory one) to keep humanity evolving in a particular way, and then, when not needed anymore, been abandoned?
    – There is no “good” or “bad” in reality, this is duality speak. Everything is a point of view. You can find a positive and negative aspect to absolutely everything. From weeds to clouds in the sky. All things have both aspects, and both are also One in a more macroscopic view.
    – Everything just is. As such, having religion or atheism is one of the things that simply happen. If something can happen (based on the physical laws of the universe one lives in), it will happen. So religion and atheism just happened. Why crucify either? (pan intended)

  2. Harriet on June 17, 2014 at 18:59

    “But you see, the types of religions that 99% of the population are into, are simply the “pop” versions of these beliefs, which are controlled and manipulated and based on fear. ”

    My point would be that what 99% of the population actually considers to be religion IS the religion.

    • Richard Nikoley on June 17, 2014 at 19:21


      I love your comment, truly, and am glad you’ve found your spiritual path and nobody ought think I don’t have one. Mine is simple: what makes me cry.

      But, what Harriet said. There is a problem.

  3. Resurgent on June 17, 2014 at 23:00

    Is Religion good or bad?

    Richard, Religion is a very misunderstood word. Most often, we confuse religion with culture, and even more than that, with morality. It is neither, in fact far from it.

    Popular organized ‘religions’ are just cultures. Christianity is a culture, just as Buddhism is. Chinese have a culture just as the Russians have one. Cultures will remain on earth, and they should remain because the greater the diversity, the more beautiful is the planet.

    The Bible and the Koran and the Gita and the Vedas are all beautiful; They are rare literary masterpieces, poetry of great height – but they have nothing to do with religion.

    Religion is one. Religion is that which connects us all – Religion is that which connects animals, men, plants – everything. That which flows as green in plants, as the bloodstream in man; which moves inside you as breath, which is present inside you as the witness. Religion connects everything.

    Religion is not a synonym for culture. Religion is not concerned with your day-to-day lifestyle. Religion is concerned with your being. Religion is your pure existence, your nature. Culture is your outer shell, your etiquette, your behavior and other similarly concerned things.

    Religion is not tradition. Religion is the timeless, eternal truth. Man makes traditions – religion already is. Traditions are man’s creation, they have been invented by man. Religion precedes man.

    And that is why a religious person can never become traditional. Jesus had to be crucified, Mansoor had to be murdered, Socrates had to be poisoned – because a religious person can never be orthodox.
    A religious person is a great revolution. He is a continual declaration of the eternal, of the timeless. Whenever anyone proclaims the eternal and the timeless, the orthodox, the straight conformists, freak out. They become very nervous. They say he will bring chaos and anarchy… Ha Ha..!! (Now you know why it makes you cry)

    The same it is with morality.
    Morality is mechanical, religion is organic.
    Morality is put together from the outside, religion grows from the innermost core of your being.
    Morality comes out of conditioning, religion comes out of meditation.
    Morality is enforced by others, religion you have to seek and search for yourself.
    Morality is a social device, religion is an adventure.
    Morality is dominated by the politician and the priest, religion is a rebellion.

    Very rarely is a person religious – and whenever there is a religious person there is a great revolution around him.

    Moral people are ordinary people, as ordinary as the immoral – sometimes even more ordinary than the immoral. The immoral may sometimes have courage but the moral has no courage. The immoral may sometimes have intelligence but the moral has no intelligence.
    The immoral may sometimes be original but the moral is always repetitive.

    Morality is the greatest enemy of religion because it is a pseudo-coin. It pretends and it can deceive people. It has deceived down the ages; millions and millions of people are and have been deceived by morality. And they think that when they have morality they have religion.

    And secondly morality is always relative, always comparative.
    Religion is non-comparative, when religion is there it is simply there.
    Can you say Buddha was more religious than Jesus? It would be an absurd statement, because religion is not quantity, it is quality of being. You cannot have more or less. There are no degrees.

    Religion means awakening.
    When a man has become aware, his awareness is always total and complete, utterly complete. It does not come in parts, it comes as a whole – hence it is holy.
    Religion comes as a whole, morality comes in all shapes and sizes.
    Religion is just complete. Either it is or it is not.

  4. task master on June 18, 2014 at 14:39

    What are you doing watching TED talks dude? Finish. Your. Book. The market is hot for RS right now.

  5. Bret on June 19, 2014 at 11:37

    I enjoy watching people get worked up over religion. Whether it’s the militant atheists or the militant (e.g.) Christians–they’re all so damn sure that they’re right about everything. And their certainty is not based on science or anything rational, and surely not a respect for their fellow man’s intelligence, wisdom, experience, or perspective.

    Really, the two groups have lots in common. Fools in general tend to think that their individual existence is so important that they cannot be spared from the earth. I am here to stop all you evil corporate bastards from destroying the moral fabric of society and poisoning our young people’s minds. Or, I am here to stop all you evil godless villains from destroying the moral fabric of society and poisoning our young people’s minds. I’m pretty sure Hitler said something similar…just insert Jews, gays, whatever. Essentially, folks like this believe what they believe, because they’ve been convinced to believe it, and they sorely detest anyone who disagrees with them.

    On the other hand, let’s look at the non-militants. I am nearly convinced a truly wise and mature atheist and a truly wise and mature (e.g.) Christian are on the same psychological wavelength when it comes to the practical living of life–they just might use different terminology to describe their thoughts and feelings. For instance, a wise atheist respects the heavy hand of evolution–an inarguably superhuman force that exerts way more ‘control’ over the earth than any human or group of humans. We see evolution’s awesomeness every month, for instance, when we discover even more about the complexity of the human body than we previously knew. We’re ants crawling around in the grand scheme of things. A wise person’s posture might be that we are powerless against the forces that govern the universe, whatever they may be, and that while an individual’s pursuit of happiness is not wrong, it is arrogant and silly on the other hand to believe we have everything all figured out and that we’re truly in control of the future. Replace the word ‘evolution’ with ‘god’ (or ‘God’), and you have the exact same perspective, simply with a difference in terminology. It goes without saying that such a person would not use the dogma underpinning the cultural history of the religion he/she identifies with to justify bigotry, or really any other action for that matter.

    Like any tool, religion can be a useful tool in the hands of the wise, and a destructive one in the hands of the unwise. The exact same is true of government. And, as our libertarian brothers and sisters routinely point out, statism really is a religion in every measurable way.

    But then again, we’re all going to die one day anyway, and fairly soon, so it seems like a moot point.

    • natty on June 19, 2014 at 15:02

      “We see evolution’s awesomeness every month, for instance, when we discover even more about the complexity of the human body than we previously knew.”

      If you mean the evolution of science, I agree. If you mean evolution in a big picture(darwin)sense, poor example.

      @ Eugenia…I too didn’t get his point, but recently studying public speaking for work purpose, I enjoyed his presentation skill.

    • Bret on June 19, 2014 at 19:27

      No, it isn’t a poor example–you just didn’t understand it.

      Perhaps you would understand if I said ‘the product of evolution’ or ‘mother nature’ instead of simply ‘evolution.’

    • Richard Nikoley on June 19, 2014 at 23:54


      I generally hold that as an awesome comment a lot of people could get a lot from.

      That said, I do not see much reverence for mind and consciousness, uniquely human. So, maybe reflect a bit on what it is that prefigures your ability to make that pretty good comment.

    • natty on June 20, 2014 at 08:44

      comprehension of your poor example or rephrasing your usage of evolution are irrelevant.

      As Appiah alluded, religion arose of out a need to explain the good and bad of each day-a fear of nature; cause and effect, and human ego. Primitive man thought good things-warm sun, food, mate, etc-came from something, and so too the bad-flood, lightning, etc. Out of that reasoning born gods. Corn God, Rain God, and on down the line.

      But even today, we have not moved beyond such ignorance, the fear and awe has just shifted to different levels. We know of atoms, gravity, nuclear forces, electromagnetism, but we don’t know the cause.

      Although evolution is a tidy word accepted by many, to encompass much, it fails basic scientific law and evidence. life does not spawn from non life. matter does not spontaneously transform to other than what it intrinsically is-become more functionally complex. life could not form without the interjection of intelligence.

    • Gemma on June 20, 2014 at 23:36


      To fill the holes in your take of basic scientific law and evidence in evolution, please first read something, start for instance here:

  6. Bret on June 20, 2014 at 01:01

    I suppose I regard the uniquely human mind and consciousness as another product of evolution–which again takes me back to the superhuman force of [whatever someone wants to call it]. Sure, it is impressive, compared to a dog’s mind and consciousness, or a banana’s. But what if our entire universe is a mere subatomic particle of a cell of an organ of some monstrously more complex specimen, which lives in its own home/community/world/universe? We might not be as impressed with our intellect compared to that of this hypothetical, far-fetched-to-the-point-of-bad-sci-fi specimen.

    I don’t intend any particular disrespect to humans and their faculties. But they’re the product of the universe like everything else. They can arguably take actions to influence their lifetimes and others in the course of a limited span of time, but the universe will ultimately consume them again. My conclusion is still that we are ultimately superseded by an inferior force–whether or not we assign to it a human-like image, a human-like personality, or the human-like ability to reason.

    If this attitude seems irreverent and draconion, then it is probably due to the topic we are discussing. The controversies over religion, and more specifically over people’s use of it, typically arise out of extreme human arrogance. My point is that such arrogance is the result of ignorance, and (as I mentioned) of one person’s disrespect for another’s intelligence. Not so applicable to the wise ones I mentioned, but to the militant, I’m-damn-sure-I’m-right-and-am-willing-to-oppress-others-over-it ones.

    If we are discussing societal issues of wild coyotes, then any remarks I’d make regarding humans would likely come across as decidedly reverent.

    • Bret on June 20, 2014 at 01:04

      Bleh…typos. That’s what I get for writing when I should be sleeping.

      superseded by a *superior* force.

  7. task master on June 20, 2014 at 03:24

    Who will publish more? You with your new book or
    Dr Hans A Nikoley with “Contending for the faith publications”?

    • bettyboo on June 20, 2014 at 20:19

      Let me work this one out for you: Richard has 6,768 followers and Hans has 12. Case closed.

    • bettyboo on June 20, 2014 at 20:19

      *Twitter followers that is. Doh!

    • Richard Nikoley on June 20, 2014 at 21:07

      Hans is my fundamental baptist preacher uncle and I can’t help but love him since I was a kid.

      He smiles more than any person I’ve ever known. He knows all about me and my deal. He always treats me with respect in person, as I do him in person.

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