— Daniel Dennett, book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
Breaking the Spell (2006)
Context: The daily actions of religious people have accomplished uncounted good deeds throughout history, alleviating suffering, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick. Religions have brought the comfort of belonging and companionship to many who would otherwise have passed through this life all alone, without glory or adventure. They have not just provided first aid, in effect, for people in difficulties; they have provided the means for changing the world in ways that remove those difficulties. As Alan Wolfe says, "Religion can lead people out of cycles of poverty and dependency just as it led Moses out of Egypt". There is much for religion lovers to be proud of in their traditions, and much for all of us to be grateful for.The fact that so many people love their religions as much as, or more than, anything else in their lives is a weighty fact indeed. I am inclined to think that nothing could matter more than what people love. At any rate, I can think of no value that I would place higher. I would not want to live in a world without love. Would a world with peace, but without love, be a better world? Not if the peace was achieved by drugging the love (and hate) out of us, or by suppression. Would a world with justice and freedom, but without love, be a better world? Not if it was achieved by somehow turning us all into loveless law-abiders with none of the yearnings or envies or hatreds that are wellsprings of injustice and subjugation.It is hard to consider such hypotheticals, and I doubt if we should trust our first intuitions about them, but, for what it is worth, I surmise that we almost all want a world in which love, justice, freedom, and peace are all present, as much as possible, but if we had to give up one of these, it wouldn't — and shouldn't — be love. But, sad to say, even if it is true that nothing could matter more than love, it wouldn't follow from this that we don't have reason to question the things that we, and others, love. Love is blind, as they say, and because love is blind, it often leads to tragedy: to conflicts in which one love is pitted against another love, and something has to give, with suffering guaranteed in any resolution.