Because the universe is beautiful enough without having to lie about it

Skeptical Heresies #6

April 4th, 2011 Posted in General, Religion

6. The Infinite carrot & stick is unique – probably can’t be duplicated by other means

It can’t be denied that the main motivation that is provided by religious belief is what I call the “Infinite Carrot and Stick” provided by the enticement of eternal paradise and the terror of eternal damnation. Much has been written about the psychologically damaging effect of this feature, especially the fear with which youngsters are filled by the (unknown to them, hypothetical and impossible) concept of hell by fundamentalist preachers of many different religions. This fear often carries through to adult life, causing great emotional distress.

It is likely that there is no rational, scientific way to get this kind of motivational system. Once religion is gone, so is this unique psychological feature.

The infinite carrot and stick allows religious faith to be used as an amplifier. For exceptionally good, kind-hearted people one could argue that it may cause them to go out of their way to devote their lives to helping others. For the majority of the population, it gives them a much stronger justification for them to do whatever it is that they already want to do – or whatever it is that a sufficiently skillful orator or teacher can convince them is right and beneficial. And in some cases, that gives them the motivation to do great evil.

So it’s quite likely that the net effect of the infinite carrot and stick is a negative one – though that’s just a vague impression, not a rigorous result. I have no idea how such a rigorous result could ever be calculated. But this is beside the point. If there were some way to turn this force so that it could be used purely (or largely) for good then it could be a very important tool in our toolkit for bringing about rapid and positive change in humanity. But once it’s gone, we lose that possibility.

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