What is “dysfunctional” religion?

I started this blog four months ago with a review of Religion for Athiests: a Non-belivers Guide to the Uses of Religion by Alain de Botton. One “thread” that has run through my reading has been an interest in “dysfunctional” religion. My review (Sept 5) of Beyond Belief by J M Hill falls into this category. Hill’s description of Scientology certainly earns it the label “dysfunctional”. 

But all of this requires more explanation. Flinging around a label like “dysfunctional” sounds unpleasantly judgmental. What do I mean by it?

A respected friend of mine considers ALL religion dysfunctional, asserting that religion has caused more human suffering (especially war) than any other social institution. In his opinion, a rational person does not need religion. Intellectually, I get it, but…I can’t live that way! I am, by choice, deeply involved in a religious congregation. It has helped me through various challenges in life, and had a particularly positive impact on my experience of parenthood. 

I suspect many people feel the way I do. So religion is with us for the long run… Can we discriminate between “good” and “bad” religion? Many books are published that describe people’s experiences with religion “gone bad”. (I will post shortly about several more.)

My definition of “dysfunctional” pertains to the individual. “Dysfunctional” for whom? How much can choice be limited before a person is psychologically crippled? What about disruption of family ties? What if religion requires poverty? I feel misgivings about conscience – should a person put his or her conscience under someone else’s control? And yet, every person who joins a religious order does so by taking a vow of obedience… (I have been told my views are oversimplified and I’m missing important nuances…)

So, I will be discussing books in which people describe their religious experiences. I’m well aware that there may be another “side” to some situations that I have not sought out. I’m an opportunistic and omnivorous reader… onward and upward!


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