the benefits accruing to humankind (leaving aside questions of afterlife)
from the belief
and practice of organized religions outweigh the costs?"
political sensitivities of the topic, it is hard to imagine that a suitably
rigorous attempt to answer this question could be organized or its results
published and discussed soberly, but it is striking that there is no
serious basis on which to conduct such a conversation. Religion brings
peace and solace to many; religion kills people, divides societies,
diverts energy and resources. How to assess the net impact in some meaningfully
quantitative way? Even to imagine the possibility of such an inquiry
and to think through some of the categories you would use could be very
J. O'Donnell is Professor
of Classical Studies and Vice Provost at UPenn and author of Avatars
of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace.