In her essay, An Aristotelian Life, Marcia Homiak parallels the benefits of religious belief to Aristotle’s formula for human flourishing. Specifically, religious belief seems to provide her friends and family with five benefits. First, it provides guidance for how to live one's life, how to identify what is important, valuable and worthwhile. Second, it provides the motivation for acts of human decency, generosity and beneficence. Third, it can provide them with the psychological strength to do what is right even when the odds are stacked against them or they are in great peril. Fourth, it ties them together and creates deep social bonds of love, friendship and affection. And fifth, it can provide comfort in times of hardship and distress. While she believes that these are all admirable qualities that can be found among the religious, they are not exclusive to believers. She basically summarizes Aristotle’s view of the good life, and shows that all these positive effects can be realized outside of a religious context. I don’t think that religious people acquire these benefits because of their religious “beliefs”. The community could be advantageous in dealing with grief and provide comfort, but not beliefs and teachings alone. The good parts of a religious persons character is not a credit to the religion, or faith, but man’s innate moral compass. If non religious people can attain these qualities without religion, then there must be a commonality between the believer and nonbeliever that allows them both access to them. Humans have an innate morality. Healthy children that are too young to understand complex moral questions, yet they have a sense of fairness without having to be taught the golden rule. If someone is motivated to act nobly because they were told it was the proper thing to do, rather than doing the same thing for nothing more than knowing that it will positively effect another person. Aristotle also seems to say that we can reach our full potential by being “self-lovers”. This does not mean that we only think about ourselves and disreguard the needs of others. We are social creatures (Aristotle says man is a political creature). Since we have a deep need to share our experiences and helping others can make our lives more fulfilled, we are “self-loving” when we are “other-loving”. This means that we can all be “selfish together” (S. Harris, The End Of Faith).
Back to my point on religious faith getting undue credit for the admirable qualities expressed through its adherents. Either all religions are correct, none of them are correct, or one of them is correct. I can only understand, and make sense of the world if the second option is true. If religion is not necessarily true, but in any case can be beneficial, why not leave people be and let those positive portions of faith flourish? We shouldn’t try to prevent people from practicing their religion; however, we should keep our eye on the ball here. Yes, religion can help people live moral lives, but this watered down, and housebroken faith is a relatively new manifestation. The late Christopher Hitchens summed this up pretty well in this quote I found. “Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse.”(Hitchens God is not Great)
Fact Q: What was the name of Aristotle’s most famous work on ethics?
A: Nicomachean Ethics