Author Topic: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful  (Read 873 times)

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Offline Lectus

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It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« on: October 27, 2013, 02:57:35 PM »
What do you think about this argument for religion?

I'm not talking about any specific religion that may contain harmful beliefs.

But suppose you have a religion with an useful belief. Does it make it any good?

It may not be true, God may not exist, but it's useful to help people psychologically and socially.
Religion: The belief that an all powerful God or gods created the entire universe so that we tiny humans can be happy. And we also make war about it.

Offline Nick

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #1 on: October 27, 2013, 02:59:17 PM »
To base a belief, culture, or lifestyle on a lie is no way to run a country, society, or individual life.
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Offline Lectus

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #2 on: October 27, 2013, 03:11:49 PM »
To base a belief, culture, or lifestyle on a lie is no way to run a country, society, or individual life.

But everyone does that to some extent. If you don't believe tomorrow can be a good day you'll not feel compelled to stay alive, you may develop depression.

In essence, EVERYONE holds some kind of belief.
Religion: The belief that an all powerful God or gods created the entire universe so that we tiny humans can be happy. And we also make war about it.

Offline Foxy Freedom

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #3 on: October 27, 2013, 03:19:30 PM »
Religion binds groups of people into social and fighting units but also damages them, in ritual activities. The rituals are part of the binding force.

It is sometimes said that religion inspires creativity but recent research has shown that both intense religion and intense creativity are caused by oxygen deprivation in the brain so they often appear together.

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Offline RubyLeo

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #4 on: October 27, 2013, 04:44:01 PM »
Hmmmm what about Buddhism? I get conflicting reports on whether that is a religion or just a philosophy. From my admittedly only surface-level knowledge of it, it seems to be a positive way of living.

Uhhh, well - a 5 second Google search just wiped that notion off the board:

Myanmar Muslims Hide From Buddhist Mobs Amid Sectarian Violence
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/02/myanmar-muslims_n_4029018.html

This confuses me as I always thought of Buddhism as the "peaceful" religion/philosophy. Are there any?  Amish? Mennonites? Peace loving folk who don't shove their beliefs onto others?

Still, even so, the children don't get much of a chance at avoiding indoctrination, so to me that automatically prevents any religion from being too "helpful." That's psychologically harmful in and of itself.



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Offline Jonny-UK

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #5 on: October 28, 2013, 08:33:18 AM »
I'm not talking about any specific religion that may contain harmful beliefs.
I think that might be the problem.
A religion might not mean to be harmful but people can, and do, sometimes see the same thing differently.
I think most religions today already have good intentions but that does not stop conflict happening.
Now if a god came down and gave the whole world the same rule book you might finally have a religion that works for everyone.
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Online jaimehlers

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #6 on: October 28, 2013, 08:55:21 AM »
I think that might be the problem.
A religion might not mean to be harmful but people can, and do, sometimes see the same thing differently.
I think most religions today already have good intentions but that does not stop conflict happening.
Thus the Christian saying, "good intentions pave the road to hell."

Offline ParkingPlaces

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #7 on: October 28, 2013, 09:12:33 AM »
A religious belief that helps its believers but does not inspire them to launch suicide attacks on everyone else might qualify as useful. But we'd all need more specifics about any given belief before the rest of the world could comfortably go along with the nice distortions of one group.
Not everyone is entitled to their opinion. They're all entitled to mine though.

Offline dloubet

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #8 on: October 28, 2013, 10:37:02 PM »
Faith is not a virtue, it's the glorification of ignorance.
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Offline 12 Monkeys

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #9 on: October 28, 2013, 10:53:22 PM »
Imagine the leaps and bounds science could make without religion in it's path.  Unfortunately the wars based on religion have also advanced science and technology. The Atom bomb and the rocket as an example.

 If I had of told a 1960 scientist he could hold the computer,taking up a whole room in 1960,in the palm of his hands he would have thought I was a nut. No thanks to religious people who make the rules and hold the purse strings,scientific discovery,moves at a glacial pace compared to what it could be.
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Offline magicmiles

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #10 on: October 28, 2013, 11:04:10 PM »
Imagine the leaps and bounds science could make without religion in it's path.  Unfortunately the wars based on religion have also advanced science and technology. The Atom bomb and the rocket as an example.

 If I had of told a 1960 scientist he could hold the computer,taking up a whole room in 1960,in the palm of his hands he would have thought I was a nut. No thanks to religious people who make the rules and hold the purse strings,scientific discovery,moves at a glacial pace compared to what it could be.

Have you read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley? It's fiction, but paints a very good picture of the type of world that might result if technology and 'progress' are given nothing but green lights without due checks and balances from all walks of life, including those who you might consider moralisers or God botherers.
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Offline 12 Monkeys

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #11 on: October 28, 2013, 11:20:40 PM »
Imagine the leaps and bounds science could make without religion in it's path.  Unfortunately the wars based on religion have also advanced science and technology. The Atom bomb and the rocket as an example.

 If I had of told a 1960 scientist he could hold the computer,taking up a whole room in 1960,in the palm of his hands he would have thought I was a nut. No thanks to religious people who make the rules and hold the purse strings,scientific discovery,moves at a glacial pace compared to what it could be.

Have you read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley? It's fiction, but paints a very good picture of the type of world that might result if technology and 'progress' are given nothing but green lights without due checks and balances from all walks of life, including those who you might consider moralisers or God botherers.
I am not suggesting a world with no regulation by any means. Moral grounds from a fictional (IMO) God is different from regulating science based on safe boundaries for humans to survive. GMo's in food we eat is a prime example.
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Offline magicmiles

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #12 on: October 28, 2013, 11:35:57 PM »
Fair enough Mr Monkeys, fair enough.
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Offline median

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #13 on: October 29, 2013, 12:15:08 AM »
I prefer reality for credulous (useful) fiction any day. Via Occam's Razor we can shave off the nonsense and explore the precious and invaluable lives we now experience. We simply don't need those fictions due to their incredible baggage they carry. Let's take the meat and spit out the bones.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Carl Sagan

Offline Angus and Alexis

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #14 on: October 29, 2013, 02:32:06 AM »
I say that as long as a belief does not conflict with anyone, anything or life itself, go ahead, believe that you have a god named "Steve", just don't push it on anything, or anyone.
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Offline RubyLeo

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #15 on: October 29, 2013, 07:46:51 AM »
I say that as long as a belief does not conflict with anyone, anything or life itself, go ahead, believe that you have a god named "Steve", just don't push it on anything, or anyone.

Deism comes to mind.   
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Offline Anfauglir

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #16 on: October 29, 2013, 08:03:55 AM »
What do you think about this argument for religion?

I'm not talking about any specific religion that may contain harmful beliefs.

But suppose you have a religion with an useful belief. Does it make it any good?

I think you'd need to define "useful" there, with emphasis on the long term rather than the short term for the individual.

To take an example: it may be useful for me to give my kids an ipod, to keep them quiet while at a restaurant for example.  It nicely meets the short term goal of a nice quiet meal for the grown-ups.  But long-term, it will be damaging.  It means they will miss out on learning social skills, and will not learn the ability of being able to modify their own behaviour rather than have an external force modify it for them.

And that's where I see the parallel with beliefs, with the "oh, my belief keeps me happy".  It may well do - but all the while it does, that person does not develp the ability to make themselves happy.  And so when and if the ipod, or the god, is taken away, that person will flounder.

There may well be something that is not true, but still useful, but I struggle to think of anything where that would be correct in anything but the short term.
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
Why is it so hard for believers to answer a direct question?

Offline Truth OT

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #17 on: October 29, 2013, 09:47:32 AM »
What do you think about this argument for religion?

I'm not talking about any specific religion that may contain harmful beliefs.

But suppose you have a religion with an useful belief. Does it make it any good?

It may not be true, God may not exist, but it's useful to help people psychologically and socially.

Using religion as a placebo is only okay for children much the way telling them to be good so Santa will bring them presents is. When religious beliefs are internalized by a mature mind and then used to help as a coping mechanism, there can be negative reprocussions. Those reprocussions include a lax attitude towards doing things oneself and not seeking real help because an individual places stuff "in God's hands" and tries solving problems with prayer as opposed to action.

Offline penfold

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #18 on: October 29, 2013, 09:48:47 AM »
But suppose you have a religion with an useful belief. Does it make it any good?
It may not be true, God may not exist, but it's useful to help people psychologically and socially.

I think the claim that ‘usefulness’ can have value independent of ‘truthfulness’ is a good one. Just to give a couple of historical examples:

1) Miasma Theory: This was the ancient belief that disease was caused by ‘foul air’; this theory lead the Romans and Late Medieval Europeans to develop sewage management systems. The theory was completely wrong but the resulting sewage systems were hugely beneficial to public health. (Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miasma_theory )

2) Yin Yang Cosmology: During the Chinese Han Dynasty (206BCE – c.220CE) many intellectual threads were pulled together in what is known as the ‘Han synthesis’. Central to this world-view is a cosmology which argues that the universe is best explained as chi (energy/matter) whose motions and changes are governed by the interrelation of yin and yang (the dark/soft/female – bright/hard/male respectively). This is a false description of the universe; however it was incredibly useful in the development of technology (Ref: Needham – Science and Civilisation in Chinahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_and_Civilisation_in_China). Moreover the whole notion of ‘mutual balance’ inherent in yin yang cosmology became the model for the development of the Chinese civil service aspects of which have survived the last two thousand years (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_service#China).

These examples show (and there are many others for which similar claims can be made: Aristotelian Physics; Newtonian Mechanics etc…) that an untrue idea can nonetheless be useful. There is no reason that this is not the case for religions. In fact all mainstream religions could successfully argue that they have proven ‘useful’ by one or other measure.

I am unclear as to what you are really asking. If only: “Can things be useful even if false?” then, as the examples above show, the answer is yes. If, however, you are asking “Should we believe in things we know to be false just because they are useful?” then that’s a whole different ball of wax; and I would be inclined to say that we simply cannot believe in that we know to be false – no matter how useful that fiction would be.
« Last Edit: October 29, 2013, 10:55:44 AM by penfold »
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Online screwtape

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #19 on: October 29, 2013, 12:18:50 PM »
What do you think about this argument for religion?

I'm not talking about any specific religion that may contain harmful beliefs.

But suppose you have a religion with an useful belief. Does it make it any good?

It may not be true, God may not exist, but it's useful to help people psychologically and socially.

no.  It is still magical thinking.  And if magical thinking is practiced, instead of rational thinking, it will invade all thinking and decision making.  And that is a problem for a species with thermonuclear weapons.

Atheist Matthew Parris once suggested Africa needed religion.  He said pretty much the same as you - it was false, but useful.  Stephen Law commented on it.  He said religion is not controllable. Someone will always take it somewhere destructive.  Not only that but religion is a catalyst.  It magnifies problems. 

Quote
However, the catalytic power works just as well with negative tendencies, such as the desire to dominate and exploit. Take the subjugation of women, mix in a few drops of the heady brew of religion, and watch how much more entrenched and hard-to-shift the subjugation becomes; add a few drops more, and watch how some become sufficiently intoxicated to start flinging acid in the faces of young girls who dare to attend school. Add a dollop of religion to homophobia, and suddenly the attitude becomes far more difficult to shift, grounded as it now seems to be in holy scripture.

http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2009/01/religion-as-social-tool.html

I agree with him. 

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Offline Truth OT

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #20 on: October 29, 2013, 01:35:19 PM »
Based on what you place into the universe by your actions and intentions along with your outlook and whether you think positively or negatively; the unseen force that exists within and permeates the universe as it connects all living, feeling, self aware beings will either tilt things in your favor or against you. That's the power of the Force.

Offline jdawg70

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #21 on: October 29, 2013, 02:05:13 PM »
Using religion as a placebo is only okay for children much the way telling them to be good so Santa will bring them presents is. When religious beliefs are internalized by a mature mind and then used to help as a coping mechanism, there can be negative reprocussions. Those reprocussions include a lax attitude towards doing things oneself and not seeking real help because an individual places stuff "in God's hands" and tries solving problems with prayer as opposed to action.
So I think this will clearly reveal that I do not have children, but:

Is it really okay that we tell children that, if they're good, Santa will bring them presents, and if they're bad, he won't?  Their minds are quite malleable, and what the whole Santa bit is doing is associating ethical and moral behavior with personal reward/risk without any consideration for concepts like 'empathy' or 'long term thinking'.  I guess we eventually tell them that there is no Santa Claus, but we ingrain that type of thinking very early on where it becomes injected into their subconscious.  Is it not better to try to instill a better moral code earlier on in the developmental stages of a child?

Or am I being too pedantic here?  Or simply too ignorant of developmental psychology?
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Offline Truth OT

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #22 on: October 29, 2013, 02:45:17 PM »
Using religion as a placebo is only okay for children much the way telling them to be good so Santa will bring them presents is. When religious beliefs are internalized by a mature mind and then used to help as a coping mechanism, there can be negative reprocussions. Those reprocussions include a lax attitude towards doing things oneself and not seeking real help because an individual places stuff "in God's hands" and tries solving problems with prayer as opposed to action.
So I think this will clearly reveal that I do not have children, but:

Is it really okay that we tell children that, if they're good, Santa will bring them presents, and if they're bad, he won't?  Their minds are quite malleable, and what the whole Santa bit is doing is associating ethical and moral behavior with personal reward/risk without any consideration for concepts like 'empathy' or 'long term thinking'.  I guess we eventually tell them that there is no Santa Claus, but we ingrain that type of thinking very early on where it becomes injected into their subconscious.  Is it not better to try to instill a better moral code earlier on in the developmental stages of a child?

Or am I being too pedantic here?  Or simply too ignorant of developmental psychology?

You make perfect sense to me and if there were no other considerations I walk around dare cares and toys stores during the holidays with a sign that says "Santa Ain't Real." However, because we live in a world that's so "woo embracing", and due to the fact that we as humans are social animals, many rational parents allow these such woo's to be shared with their kids for the sake of making it easier to get along with the masses and we take on the "what's the harm in it" mentality.

Offline RubyLeo

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #23 on: October 29, 2013, 06:37:19 PM »

So I think this will clearly reveal that I do not have children, but:

Is it really okay that we tell children that, if they're good, Santa will bring them presents, and if they're bad, he won't?  Their minds are quite malleable, and what the whole Santa bit is doing is associating ethical and moral behavior with personal reward/risk without any consideration for concepts like 'empathy' or 'long term thinking'.  I guess we eventually tell them that there is no Santa Claus, but we ingrain that type of thinking very early on where it becomes injected into their subconscious.  Is it not better to try to instill a better moral code earlier on in the developmental stages of a child?

Or am I being too pedantic here?  Or simply too ignorant of developmental psychology?

No, not to me - I totally see your point.  We "do" Santa at our home (we have 3 kids: 16, 13, and 10) - but we never EVER did the "you have to be good or Santa won't come" - I think that's mind-screwing and cruel.  It's all in fun and I love playing Santa, I admit.  :)

Obviously my 16 year old knows there is no Santa, and my 10 year old is onto it as well - she does the "wink wink" thing when talking about him; however our 13 year old son with autism is a BIG Santa fan - soooo, not sure quite how to handle that one. 

I guess I go by my own childhood, in which Santa was a fun phase - my parents never used threats about him either so it was just an exciting time when I was little. 

My sister, however, did the "you better be good or Santa won't come!" as a threat to her kids, it always drove me batshit crazy. It was mean and uncalled for. 

Santa is a hell of a lot nicer than god in my book.  ;D
"Any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be true. "
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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #24 on: October 29, 2013, 10:36:40 PM »
however our 13 year old son with autism is a BIG Santa fan - soooo, not sure quite how to handle that one. 

It's possible that parents pussyfoot around with Santa, so that kids learn it through a boiling frog realization, and there is no revelation. If parents just came out with it, "We just made Santa up, because you were gullible. Fooled you totally...". The result may be more transformative.

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Offline Anfauglir

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #25 on: October 30, 2013, 06:09:21 AM »
I think the claim that ‘usefulness’ can have value independent of ‘truthfulness’ is a good one. Just to give a couple of historical examples:

1) Miasma Theory: This was the ancient belief that disease was caused by ‘foul air’; this theory lead the Romans and Late Medieval Europeans to develop sewage management systems. The theory was completely wrong but the resulting sewage systems were hugely beneficial to public health.

Couple of useful examples there - but I think the crucial point is that the untruth led to a way of thinking that produced exactly the same results as the truth would have.  And again, as I said, they tend to be only useful in the short term - the Miasma Theory, for example, may indeed have led to sewage management - but if the problem was "foul air", further progress may have been directed towards perfumes and incense around waste products to eliminate the "foulness" in the air, rather than along the lines of keeping sewage away from fresh water, to pick one example.
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
Why is it so hard for believers to answer a direct question?

Offline RubyLeo

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #26 on: October 30, 2013, 07:33:45 AM »
however our 13 year old son with autism is a BIG Santa fan - soooo, not sure quite how to handle that one. 

It's possible that parents pussyfoot around with Santa, so that kids learn it through a boiling frog realization, and there is no revelation. If parents just came out with it, "We just made Santa up, because you were gullible. Fooled you totally...". The result may be more transformative.

Well our son wouldn't understand that much information at once - i.e., WTF is "gullible" in the mind of someone with a 1st grade mentality? He is pretty severe.  BUT I will agree with you on the fact that it can be much simpler than I'm guessing.  I can see us just saying "me and daddy are Santa" and him replying "OK!" with a big smile.  I tend to do a long of hand-wringing over things; good thing my husband does not have that problem whatsoever, lol.  ;D
"Any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be true. "
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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #27 on: October 30, 2013, 10:57:32 AM »
So I think this will clearly reveal that I do not have children, but:

Is it really okay that we tell children that, if they're good, Santa will bring them presents, and if they're bad, he won't?

I say yes.  eventually they figure out that  Santa isn't real and other things adults tell them might also not be real.  This discovery can be used as an excellent rite of passage. 

"Congratulations, my dear daughter.  You figured it out.  You passed the test.  What other things might be untrue?  Yes, you're right. The tooth faerie is not real.  Correct, the Easter Bunny is also not real.  Very good.  You also figured out god is a fable.  You are getting bigger and wiser and are on your way to being an adult."

I think if handled properly, it can be a very positive experience.
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Offline RubyLeo

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Re: It doesn't matter that it's not true if it's useful
« Reply #28 on: October 30, 2013, 01:19:56 PM »
So I think this will clearly reveal that I do not have children, but:

Is it really okay that we tell children that, if they're good, Santa will bring them presents, and if they're bad, he won't?

I say yes.  eventually they figure out that  Santa isn't real and other things adults tell them might also not be real.  This discovery can be used as an excellent rite of passage. 

"Congratulations, my dear daughter.  You figured it out.  You passed the test.  What other things might be untrue?  Yes, you're right. The tooth faerie is not real.  Correct, the Easter Bunny is also not real.  Very good.  You also figured out god is a fable.  You are getting bigger and wiser and are on your way to being an adult."

I think if handled properly, it can be a very positive experience.

I really like this way of thinking.  My only problem is with the idea of using Santa as a threat, i.e. "if you aren't good Santa's not coming."  That's cruel, IMO.  But using it as a rite of passage, now I really like that!
"Any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be true. "
~ Thomas Paine