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Overview

In the spirit of noding one's homework, below is an essay written for one of my undergraduate philosophy seminars regarding the ills of religion. It should be made clear that I do not believe all religions (or all believers) are bad or evil or anything like that; rather, I simply believe the negative aspects of religion far outweigh any positive side-effects.

Specifically, the main point of this essay is to refute the common belief that somehow the world is "better off with religion, whether it's true or not." In my opinion, this is not the case...in fact, it’s nowhere near the case.

Disclaimer: For the purposes of this essay, "religion" is defined as a set of beliefs (or an organized structure/system of said beliefs) that compels one to make certain moral choices based on faith or the perceived authority of a church or religious leader. Obviously, this definition falls short of defining many minority religions and/or spiritual viewpoints; the intent here is to target the religious machinery itself, that is, groups of individual religious persons such as the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and other fundamentalists/zealots who act in such a way as to manufacture (what I argue to be) a false moral code. An attack against tolerant, minority religio-spiritual viewpoints is neither intended nor implied.

As is mentioned in the first footnote, the essay specifically focuses on the Judeo-Christian faith, as that is the predominant world view to date. (Yet most of the arguments could be easily adapted for other religions, such as Islam.) The paper is reproduced below, complete with its original title, a quote by philosopher Bertrand Russell.


Religion: The Dragon that Guards the Door

Despite whether it is based in fact, many people today believe that religion does more good than harm. Even if religion is a false doctrine of superstition and myth, it is often argued that its benefits far outweigh its detriments. According to these arguments, the good things done in the name of religion are more than enough to make up for the slight harm caused by mass ignorance of the truth. The problem with this line of reasoning is that it fails to factor in the bad things done in the name of religion. The wars, murders, and other atrocities perpetuated by religious belief and its unwavering defense against social and scientific progress combine to create quite a formidable argument against the notion that supernatural belief is necessary or even beneficial to human society.1

Mid-twentieth-century philosopher Bertrand Russell claimed there were two major arguments against religion, the intellectual and the moral.2 Disputing the belief that religion can accomplish good things while being untrue, he claimed that one's opinion of whether an outcome is "good" or "bad" can have much to do with whether one is religious in the first place:

[T]here is a certain tendency in our practical age to consider that it does not much matter whether religious teaching is true or not, since the important question is whether it is useful. One question, however, cannot be decided without the other. If we believe the Christian religion, our notions of what is good will be different from what they will be if we do not believe it. Therefore, to Christians, the effects of Christianity may seem good, while to unbelievers they may seem bad.3

For example, if conservative Christians (with Leviticus 18:224 in mind) lobby their state legislature effectively and are able to outlaw same-sex marriage, fundamentalists would probably rejoice at this obviously "positive" effect of religion. However, unbelievers (most especially gay and lesbian unbelievers) would probably find this horrible violation of personal rights to be a "negative" effect. And what about when different religions, or different sects, disagree? Of this, writer Barbara Ehrenreich said in her 1985 Vogue article, "One Nation, Divided, Under God:"

When one side says that God commands us to build more nuclear weapons, and the other side says God commands us to tear them down, then there is really nothing that the two sides can say to each other. As the Fundamentalist bumper-sticker says, "The Bible said it, I believe it, and that's all there is to it."5
The way in which one judges the outcome of an act done in the name of religion is very much relative to the person's religious beliefs at the time.

Russell's second objection to religion, the moral argument, attacks supernatural belief because of its tendency to enforce the status quo and slow cultural and social progress. According to Russell, religion dates "from a time when [people] were more cruel than they are and therefore [tends] to perpetuate inhumanities which the moral conscience of the age would otherwise outgrow."6 Eva Ingersoll, in the appendix of The Woman's Bible Part II, reiterated Russell's argument that adherence to ancient religious laws only serves to shackle society to the morality of the time when the laws were written:

I regard the Bible as I do the other so-called sacred books of the world. They were all produced in savage times, and, of course, contain many things that shock our sense of justice. In the days of darkness women were regarded and treated as slaves. They were allowed no voice in public affairs. Neither man nor woman was civilized... It gives me pleasure to know that women are beginning to think and are becoming dissatisfied with the religion of barbarians.7
Written in a time when women were considered inferior to men, the Bible is riddled with sexist rules demanding their subjugation.8 As society progresses, however, believers are forced to choose between society's evolving morality and the ancient morality ordained by the tenents of their religion. Since hellfire and damnation are the results of disobeying God's laws, it is no surprise that many choose to cling to ancient bigotry instead of progressing beyond intolerance with the rest of society.

Social and scientific progress are often at odds with religion. As a result, the struggle for minority rights has often been a struggle against religious authority. Anne Nicol Gaylor, in an article for Free Inquiry, discussed Wisconsin's fight for legalized contraception, which was mostly a fight against Christian fundamentalists:

As late as 1974 it was illegal in Wisconsin for any unmarried person to purchase contraceptives, and our laws were hostile to birth control even for someone properly married.... [L]ong lines of priests, nuns, and fundamentalists...came to the state capital to testify against contraception and abortion, even as Wisconsin women were having babies every year until they died from it, even as the world began to shudder from overpopulation.9
Contraception was not the first scientific breakthrough to be denounced by the Church. The heliocentric theory, theory of evolution, smallpox vaccine, and various methods of assisted reproduction—to name a few—are all examples of issues that have provoked resistance from believers throughout history.

Sex is another issue that has been attacked by religion. By insisting that sex is something dirty and evil, religion has caused millions of people to feel guilty about an act in which they are naturally compelled to take part. By suggesting that sex is wrong, religionists are often able to convince others that sex education is wrong, also—for the knowledge one gains can only lead to mischief. While sex education might be the only weapon society has against sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS and syphilis, there is also an argument by many believers that such diseases are really "punishments from God" for sinful acts. Explains Russell:

Take, for example, the question of the prevention of syphilis. It is known that, by precautions taken in advance, the danger of contracting this disease can be made negligible. Christians, however, object to the dissemination of knowledge of this fact, since they hold it good that sinners should be punished. They hold this so good that they are even willing that punishment should extend to the wives and children of sinners. There are in the world at the present moment many thousands of children suffering from congenital syphilis who would never have been born but for the desire of Christians to see sinners punished. I cannot understand how doctrines leading to this fiendish cruelty can be considered to have good effects upon morals.10
The concept of sex being "sinful" is found throughout the Bible. Whether one is talking about the fate of Onan, the man who spilt his seed and was killed by God for his transgression11 (leading the Church to condemn masturbation), or the elegant way in which Psalms 51:512 argues all humans are born in sin, one thing is clear: sex is shameful and wrong.

For a more concrete example of why religion does more harm than good, consider that religious belief has served as a catalyst for too many wars and murders to count. Even if a certain mythology seems pacifistic, almost any belief in the supernatural can be turned into a call for blood. Says Gustave Le Bon, author of The Psychology of the Great War:

[W]hen Germany adopted the Christian God, so mild and merciful to the lowly of the earth, He took the form of a savage deity, who despised the weak and accorded his protection to the strong alone. A transformation of this sort cannot surprise the philosopher, for [he or she] knows that gods do not change the souls of nations, but that, on the contrary, they are made in the image of the peoples who adopt them.13

The Crusades are an obvious example of religious wars. Authorized by the Pope, the Crusades have been described by historians as "an attempt to recover Christian territories lost to the infidels."14 Between 1095 and 1274, eight major and several minor crusades were led to recapture land of religious significance from the aforementioned infidels—attacking the Moors in Spain, pagans in northeastern Europe, "heretics" in France and Germany, other Christians in the West, and Muslims in Egypt, North Africa, and the Holy Land.15 In the First Crusade, Pope Urban II threatened to excommunicate any soldier who left the ranks of the army before it reached Jerusalem, forcing the men to choose between offending God and slaughtering the innocent.16 When the crusaders won, it was because God was on their side; but, when they lost, it was because they were sinners, explains one commentator:

The crusades were holy wars and as such were believed to be sanctioned and even commanded by God. It was thought that he intervened in and decided the outcome of battles and in this context the church found it difficult to explain a defeat... Apologists found that the most satisfactory way out of this dilemma was to attribute unworthiness even when acting as God's instrument; in other words to place the blame upon the crusaders themselves. According to the popes, preachers, poets, and chroniclers, the Lord was angered by men's sins...and as a punishment allowed them to be defeated by the Muslims.17
Commanded by God to kill others, and punished by God with defeat—the crusaders were fighting a war they could not win, a paradox their religious beliefs gave them no means to escape.

The Crusades were by far not the only religious wars in history. In 1562, the first of many civil wars between Catholics and Calvinists broke out in Europe.18 Several bloody battles between Huguenots and Catholics erupted in 1567 and, following the failed assassination of Huguenot leader Coligny, the horrible St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre resulted in the deaths of thousands of Huguenots who were "rebellious to God and to Charles IX."19 Meanwhile, Muslims were fighting for God in the Jihad, which both served to "make the world safe for Islam" as well as propagate the religion to other areas.20 Mark Twain illustrated the ridiculousness of God-assisted war in his narrative poem "The War Prayer:"

[H]elp us to turn them out roofless to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it—for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love...Amen. 21
All over the world and throughout history, millions have been killed in the name of God. In each of these conflicts, both sides thought that they had "God on their side," yet all they had was senseless violence in the name of an invisible, silent, mythological being.

Religion has caused too many tragedies to ever be outweighed by its negligible (and arguable) benefits. Who could deny that atrocities such as the Crusades, Inquisition, and Salem Witch Trials were the result of belief in the supernatural? How can disasters such as Jonestown, the Branch Davidians, and Heaven's Gate be ignored in light of the other "nicer" things caused by religion? It seems odd that anyone would argue for continued adherence to these ancient mythologies when they are viewed in the context of their effects.

But, one might argue, hasn't anything good come as a result of religion? It depends on how one looks at it. Russell argued that religion had made two positive contributions to society, namely that it "helped in early days to fix the calendar, and it caused Egyptian priests to chronicle eclipses with such care that in time they were able to predict them."22 However, Russell is perhaps being a bit stingy. It is impossible to ignore the many good things attributed to and done in the name of religion.

The religious apologist would most certainly point to the famine relief work of the World Council of Churches as an example of "good work done in the name of religion." Habitat for Humanity, the Christian organization that provides low-cost homes for the homeless, would also be an example of this. But even if something is done in the name of religion, it does not necessarily follow that the work being done is a result of religion. Assuming that the elimination of religion would not cause the elimination of poverty, it is highly plausible that organizations such as the World Council and Habitat for Humanity would still have come about even if Christianity had never existed. After all, there are many secular poverty relief organizations (such as Oxfam) at work today, so the drive to feed and shelter the poor is not necessarily a drive to do "God's work."

And after a quick look in the Bible, one wonders whether these organizations are actually doing God's work at all. Neither Yaweh nor Jesus ever say much about the elimination of poverty. While Jesus told his followers, "Sell your possessions and give in charity,"23 the context of the passage suggests they should give to the needy because it is more difficult for the wealthy to go to heaven than the poor—not because it is good to help those in need.24 Jesus would later go on to remind his disciples, "You have the poor among you always."25

It is sometimes argued that religion (Christianity in particular) has helped to elevate the status of women. Russell denies this, saying "this is one of the grossest perversions of history that it is possible to make."26 In looking at the struggle for women's rights in America, it is notable that the leaders of the movement were almost all agnostics or atheists. Margaret Sanger, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony—the forerunners in the movement for birth control and women's suffrage—were all at odds with religion.27 Having fought for years against patriarchal religious authority, Sanger's women's rights newsletter proudly displayed the motto "No Gods—No Masters"28 while Stanton's essays "The Christian Church and Women" and "The Degraded Status of Women in the Bible" were far from appreciative of the Church's "help." And while Anthony closeted most of her beliefs regarding religion for political reasons, she still privately told Stanton with regard to the blasphemous Woman's Bible, "But while I do not consider it my duty to tear to tatters the lingering skeletons of the old superstitions and bigotries, yet I rejoice to see them crumbling on every side."29 The struggle for women's rights came about through the work of strong, courageous, determined women—not through a belief in the supernatural.

Another argument for the persistence of religion is that it provides comfort for the natural fear of death most humans share. This argument apparently assumes that people would rather not know the truth if the truth is unpleasant (i.e. if there is no afterlife). I find this hard to believe. Suppose that a person, having visited his or her family doctor for a routine physical, is discovered to have a rare disorder. This disorder is expected to bring about the person's death quickly and painlessly in a matter of months. Now suppose you are that person. Would you want the doctor to tell you that you were going to die, so that you could come to grips with your mortality and tie up all of your "loose ends" in life (such as making a will and doing some of the things you've always meant to do before you die), or would you prefer that the doctor to keep your imminent death a secret, so you could live out your days in ignorant bliss? The same goes for the afterlife. If there is no life after death, would you rather go through life with this knowledge (and with a carpe diem attitude) or would you prefer to live each day thinking that paradise is just around the corner, dying without ever having lived?

Some say that religion provides a kind of moral guide to society. Without religion, they argue, there would be no basis for morality. These same people often point to the Ten Commandments, which they claim to be the basis for all modern law. The Code of Hammurabi, however, contains much of the "what is right and what is wrong" rhetoric that we include in our modern laws—yet it predates the Bible and was written by a human being (presumably without divine help, even though Hammurabi claimed to have god-given authority).30 As for the teachings of Jesus, even C. S. Lewis, famous Christian apologist, argued against accepting him only as a "great teacher" but not a god:

That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would be a lunatic.... Either this man was, and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool...or you can fall at His feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.31
Indeed, if one does not accept the divinity of Jesus, it becomes very difficult to follow his doctrines, which included an acceptance of slavery and authority (no matter how oppressive).32 If Christianity is true, then Jesus' teachings are a perfect guide to follow for one to enter the gates of Heaven—but if it is false, then they do nothing to make us better human beings.

Although many people derive comfort from religion and others do good things in the name of God, these acts pale in comparison to the atrocities committed to please an invisible, supernatural deity. Most (if not all) of the good things done in the name of religion could be and have been done in the name of helping one's fellow human beings. Religion enforces the status quo and fights against scientific and social evolution. It has been responsible for wars, mass suicides, and bigotry, and it is used as an excuse to do horrible things with an air of righteousness. In exchange for providing negligible benefits to society, religion holds humanity back from accomplishing its potential, fettering it with superstition and myth. As Bertrand Russell said, "It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion."33


Notes:

1. For purposes of simplicity and familiarity, this essay will primarily focus on the Judeo-Christian faith, although many (if not all) of the arguments discussed herein can be easily adapted for other religions, as well (with Islam as one of the most notable examples).

2. Bertrand Russell, "Has Religion made Useful Contributions to Civilization?" Why I Am Not a Christian, ed. Paul Edwards (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957) 30.

3. Russell 30.

4. "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." (All Biblical references are King James Version.)

5. Qtd. in Julie S. Bach and Thomas Modl, Religion in America (San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1989) 85.

6. Russell 30.

7. Qtd. in Annie Laurie Gaylor, Women without Superstition: "No Gods, No Masters" (Madison: Freedom From Religion Foundation, 1997) xii.

8. See Leviticus 19:20-22, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 and 25:11-12, I Corinthians 11:3-15 and 14:34-35, Ephesians 5:22-23, Colossians 3:18, and I Timothy 2:9-14.

9. Qtd. in Julie S. Bach and Thomas Modl, 81.

10. Russell 27-28.

11. Genesis 38:1-10.

12. "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me."

13. Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of the Great War (New York: Macmillan, 1916) 116.

14. J. S. C. and L. Riley-Smith, qtd. in Elizabeth Siberry, Criticism of Crusading (Oxford: Clarendon Press: 1985) vii.

15. Ibid 156.

16. Ibid 47.

17. Ibid 69.

18. Franklin Palm, Calvinism and the Religious Wars (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1932) 46.

19. Ibid 48-50.

20. Bruce Lawrence, "Holy War (Jihad) in Islamic Religion and Nation-State Ideologies" Just War and Jihad, ed. John Kelsay and James Johnson (New York: Greenwood Press, 1991) 144.

21. Mark Twain, The War Prayer (New York: Harper and Row, 1984).

22. Russell 24.

23. Luke 12:3.

24. Gregory Pence and Lynn Stephens, Seven Dilemmas in World Religions (New York: Paragon House, 1994) 35.

25. Mark 14:6.

26. Russell 27.

27. See Annie Laurie Gaylor pp. 401-410, 103-124, and 191-196, respectively.

28. Ibid 402-3.

29. Ibid 196.

30. Marvin Perry, Joseph Peden, and Theodore Von Laue, Sources of the Western Tradition, 3rd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995) 9-12.

31. Qtd. in Pence and Stephens 27.

32. See Matthew 22:19-21, Colossians 3:22-24, and Pence and Stephens 26-42.

33. Russell 47.

Preamble

It bothers me that this writeup has existed for three years without a rebuttal, because in all likelihood, at least one person has read it and believed that what was contained within it was fact. It's not. It's an attack on religion, rife with fallacies of logic, factual inaccuracies, and outright lies, using as a major source a person who, despite his work in logic and reason, made no effort to apply logic or reason to his musings on religion. This essay serves first and foremost to point out everything that is wrong with the original write-up, and second, to argue that religion is, in fact, very much benign.

As a disclaimer, I should disclose that I am a non-practicing member of the Roman Catholic Church, the world's largest church, and although I am not active in the Church, and disagree with a lot of its teachings, it bothers me when people make statements about it which are misleading or untrue. For the remainder of this essay, the Roman Catholic Church will be referred to as the RCC or simply "the Church". Bible passages will be taken from the King James Version. And for the record, the Church is not a fundamentalist Christian organization, and does not believe in a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible (two statements which are implied in the essay).

Religion - What Exactly Are We Talking About?

To be blunt, the "Judeo-Christian faith" does not exist any more than "American food" does. One can discuss American food, but that discussion will be a wide, sweeping one and statements made about some Americans will not apply to other Americans. Likewise when talking about this "Judeo-Christian faith", it's very difficult to make any sort of concrete statement, because Judeo-Christianity consists of such diverse beliefs as to make any summary judgment impossible. To wit, the "Judeo-Christian faith" would include:

It's In The Bible, That's What We Believe

The author posits a scenario, whereby a group of conservative Christians lobby the state legislature to outlaw same-sex marriages, and when they succeed, rejoice in the positive effect of religion. This is done, presumably, because they have Leviticus 18:22 in mind, which states:

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

Is this passage the reason they are lobbying against same sex marriages? Because it is an abomination against God? If so, they should lobby against allowing women to wear men's clothing, which, according to Deuteronomy 22:5, is also an abomination as well:

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.

And would those same people be so adamant about lobbying the state legislature to change the punishment for rape to that recommended by Deuteronomy 22:28-29?

If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

The reason why these hypothetical Christians do not lobby the legislature with regards to these issues is because the Bible really has nothing to do with the social change they are trying to enact. Oh, they might say that homosexuality is a sin because it's in the Bible, but that's not the real reason for their actions. They're lobbying for one of two reasons. One: they've put some thought into it, and they've decided that there's some aspect of homosexuality that they don't like. This is somewhat likely, but what's even more likely is the second reason: they've been told that homosexuality is wrong by someone they consider to be an authority, and haven't really put a whole lot of thought into it.

Here's some more food for thought. There is a short story by Ursula K. LeGuin entitled, "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas". To summarize the story, there exists a city, Omelas, which is essentially paradise. However, in order for this paradise to exist, one small child lives in misery underneath the city, and everyone must know about it. Every so often, says LeGuin, the plight of this child causes someone to walk away from Omelas, and though "the place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness .... they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas."

It's a morality tale. The citizens of Omelas know all about the plight of the child, yet they do not feel guilt. For most, the morality of this fictional world is entirely different than our own, and we're meant to sympathize with those who leave Omelas, presumably because their moral code is more in line with our own.

The question I'm leaning towards is this: even if religion guides the morality of a person or persons, who are you to claim that they are morally corrupt? While you and I and people like us may believe that homosexuals deserve the same rights in marriage as heterosexuals, morality is entirely subjective. Just because you or I find something morally reprehensible doesn't mean that everyone else does, so when this fictional group of conservative Christians celebrate the positive effect of religion, the fact that we disagree with their moral stand doesn't mean that their moral stand is invalid.

Religion And Sex

Not only is this argument wrong, but Bertrand Russell was either ignorant of Christianity or purposefully misrepresented it to make his point. Either way, he comes off sounding like an ass.

The Church has never been against sex. In fact, quite the opposite. Genesis 1:28 says "And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply". The Church wants you to have sex, as often as possible. But there's a catch. In the Church's eyes, the purpose of sex is twofold: unitive and procreative. It serves to spiritually unite a married man and woman, and to bring forth children onto the Earth. This is also why the Church argues against pre-marital/extra-marital sex and contraception. Sex outside of the marital union is, by definition, non-unitive. And sex while using contraception, is again, by definition, non-procreative. It should be fairly clear the reasons why the RCC has a negative opinion of things like masturbation, homosexual sex, and pornography.

Before addressing Russell's asinine statements, there are two passages that warrant mentioning:

"Homosexual persons are encompassed by the searching love of Christ. The church must turn from its fear and hatred to move toward the homosexual community in love and to welcome homosexual inquirers to its congregations. It should free them to be candid about their identity and convictions, and it should also share honestly and humbly with them in seeking the vision of God's intention for the sexual dimensions of their lives"

"The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition."

The first passage is from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), a Protestant denomination with 2.4 million members. The second passage is from the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, the document which outlines the Church's official doctrine. This paragraph, along with other passages in the Catechism, explains in quite pointed words, and in no uncertain terms, that the Church believes homosexuality to be sin, but that at the same time, the sinner is not the sin, and should be afforded the same respect afforded to all of God's creatures.

Bertrand Russell would have you believe differently. "Christians .... hold it good that sinners should be punished. They hold this so good that they are even willing that punishment should extend to the wives and children of sinners." Anyone who believes this has a fundamental misunderstanding of what Christians are taught to believe. It is not up to the individual to punish the sinner, for who among us knows God's will? One of the more famous "Bible stories", told in John 8, bears this out. Jesus goes to the Mount of Olives, where an adulterer is brought before him, and the Pharisees ask Jesus what to do with her. Jesus replies "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." What happens?

"And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst."

No... thinking it good that another man suffers, and not only another man, but his family as well... is not Christianity.

In addition to Bertrand's misguided thoughts on suffering, the inclusion of Psalm 51 into the argument is misguided as well.

"Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me."

Presumably the author is saying that the act of copulation is the sin in Psalm 51. It's not. Psalm 51 has nothing to do with sex being dirty and evil. Psalm 51 is about asking God for forgiveness for sins. The mother is not in sin while conceiving the child... the child is in sin when he is conceived, and that sin is the Original Sin that every man is born with. And Original Sin has nothing to do with sex, either. It's the sin passed on by Adam and Eve as punishment for eating from the Tree of Knowledge. There are several other places where the beliefs of Christians are twisted to serve the author's argument. These will be addressed in due time.

Religion Is Bad Because Of Tragedies & Holy Wars

The essayist makes a strong case against religion by citing the number of wars that have been fought in the name of God. Civil war between Catholics and Calvinists, the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, the Crusades! Because these atrocities happened in the name of God, religion is bad. The bizarre and tragic fates of the Branch Dividians and Heaven's Gate prove that religion is a terrible, awful, no good, very bad thing!

Religious sects are sociopolitical entities, just like governments and corporations. Some, like the Roman Catholic Church, the United States, and Coca-Cola, are large and powerful. Here is a newsflash: large and powerful sociopolitical entities sometimes engage in abhorrent behavior. In other news: the sky is blue, water is wet, and women have secrets. If one claims that religion is evil because the Church was behind the Crusades, one must also claim that the Bill of Rights is evil because the United States dropped two nukes on Japan, and that soft drinks are evil because Coke allegedly had plant workers assassinated in South America.

As a side note, using the Branch Dividians to argue against religion is like using the Shining Path to argue against Communism.

Religion And The Poor

The author argues that Jesus says nothing about eliminating poverty, then states that Jesus told his followers to sell their possessions because it is difficult for the rich to get into heaven, adding that there would always be poor people among us. He references Luke 12:3 and Mark 14:6 to make this argument. The passages are reproduced here:

"Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops"

"And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me."

It's more than a little insulting that one would write a research paper on such a polarizing topic as religion and not even cite the Bible correctly. There are similar passages to those alluded to, none of which even remotely suggest that one should give to the poor because it's harder for the rich to get into heaven. It's certainly arguable that the rich have a more difficult path to paradise... it is, in fact, the topic of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven". Those who are "sure all that glitters is gold" may believe that by giving to charity, they can buy a stairway to heaven. But giving money to the poor in order to increase your chances of getting into heaven is just another fallacy of faith, similar to Pascal's Wager. You can't choose to believe in God and live righteously in order to secure a spot in the afterlife. You secure a spot in the afterlife by believing in God and living righteously. Similarly, you can't help the poor because you want to get into heaven... you get into heaven because you want to help the poor!

Jesus does tells his disciples, in more than one Gospel account, that there will be poor among them always. This is not really a statement with regard to whether or not Christians should seek to eliminate poverty. The words were spoken at the Last Supper, as Jesus was explaining to his disciples that while there would be poor among them always, he would not be with them always.

Religion And The Oppressed

First off, by definition women are not, nor have they ever been, minorities. Are they (or were they) a group denied rights? Denied a voice? Absolutely. And no great heap of praise should be piled upon the Roman Catholic Church for anything they did to change it. But rather than make any sort of argument about the Church's history of oppressing women, the essayist supports his statement using two formal fallacies of logic. First, the argumentum ad verecundiam, or argument by authority, quoting Bertrand Russell to "prove" the assertion. Second, some sort of bizarre induction fallacy, involving the women's suffrage movement in the United States, namely that because the prominent women involved in the women's suffrage movement in the United States were all atheist or agnostic, religion has done nothing to elevate the status of women.

Here's the counter-argument, using the same fallacy of logic.

Kate Sheppard established the New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union, a religious organization that was successful in petitioning for women's suffrage in that country. Nellie McClung, suffragist and member of Canada's Famous Five, was a Methodist. Therefore, religion was a major factor in achieving equal rights for women.

The same argument can be applied to the civil rights movement in America. Rosa Parks was a lifelong member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a reverend in the Baptist Church. Malcolm X was a Sunni Muslim. These were three of the most prominent figures in the black civil rights movement. Therefore religion played a major part in blacks achieving equality in the eyes of the law.

Do you see the fallacy in this argument?

Religion And Death

If you are terminally ill, asks the author, would you rather know that you are terminally ill, so that you can live the rest of your life to the fullest and prepare for the end? Or would you rather be kept in the dark about it all? This argument assumes that we can ever know what happens after we die. We can't. An atheist can argue that all of the time a believer spends practicing religion is time wasted. A believer can argue that all of the time an athiest spends not practicing religion is time wasted. Both have equally valid points, and neither, in the course of living their lives, is wasting time. They are both happy in their pursuit. And, interestingly enough, they both have faith. The atheist has faith in his belief that there's no afterlife. The believer has faith that rewards await him after he has shed the mortal coil.

It's hard to see how this can be used as an argument for or against religion.

Secular Vs. Religious Charity

In an attempt to refute the good that the religious sects have done, the author makes reference to a number of organizations (World Council of Churches, Habitat for Humanity), and then dismisses them... IN SUCH A MANNER AS TO DESTROY THE WHOLE ARGUMENT HE WAS MAKING. The first, more logical point, is that in the absence of religion, similar charities with secular roots would have sprouted up. It's not really a point that can be argued either way, but the author does mention Oxfam as an example of a secular group to make the point. Here's where he destroys his own argument:

"But even if something is done in the name of religion, it does not necessarily follow that the work being done is a result of religion."

At the point this sentence was written, the essayist should have immediately realized that they had completely destroyed their own topic sentence. This will be returned to later, but first, a note regarding secular vs. religious charity.

Separate studies conducted by the National Institute for Drug Abuse and Northwestern University, comparing the treatment effectiveness in drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, revealed the following:

  • 86.6% of religious program graduates after seven years remained drug and crime free. This is opposed to between 6 and 7 percent for secular programs
  • 87.5% of religious program graduates did not need further drug treatment (90% considered themselves addicted to drugs upon entering the program)
  • 92% of religious program graduates reported good to excellent health when surveyed, compared to 59% of secular graduates

I'm pointing this out not to claim that religious charities do a better job than secular charities do, because I'm sure with a little research, someone could claim exactly the opposite. What I'm saying is that to make the blanket statement that secular charities could or would easily replace religious charities is a poor statement to make.

Religion And Science

I'm going to spell this out for everyone, because people either don't understand it, or just ignore the truth because it's much more fun to believe otherwise:

The Roman Catholic Church has never been opposed to either the Theory of Evolution or the Big Bang Theory.

I really can't say it any more simply than that.

On The Danger Of Interpreting The Bible Literally

First, it should be pointed out that the Bible has been scrutinized and pored over for nearly two-thousand years, has been translated from Hebrew and Greek into whatever language you are currently reading it in, and that translation has literally dozens of different translations, many of which, if placed side-by-side, would be mistaken for completely different texts. Protestants and Catholics don't even agree on which books belong in the Bible. And yet the author of this essay has pointed to several passages in the Bible and has some, let's say, very unique interpretations of their meaning, and portrayed them as concrete.

But even worse, these passages in the Bible are pointed to as being the crux of religion's message. As though the tenets of Christian belief come from a literal interpretation of the Bible. While many groups do attempt to interpret the Bible literally (and simply omit what they don't agree with), I feel it is important to mention again that the Roman Catholic Church has never put forth the notion that the Bible should be interpreted literally.

My Point, And I Do Have One...

There are essentially three ways religion can swing: it can be good, it can be bad, or it can be neither. No Springs first makes the mistake of confusing religion (a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith) with church (a body or organization of religious believers), and as such attibutes the acts of a sociopolitical entity with the tenets that the individuals of that sociopolitical entity should uphold. To clarify by example, this is akin to claiming that freedom and democracy are evil, because these are tenets that Americans (supposedly) believe in, and the United States government engages in abhorrent behavior.

In the same essay where No Springs claims that religion is evil because of all of the evil acts done it its name, he also argues that religion shouldn't be considered good, because when acts are committed in the name of religion aren't necessarily the result of religion.

Well, which is it?

One can't claim that evil acts in the name of religion prove religion to be evil, and claim exactly the opposite of good acts. The argument is lost. The position is indefensible.

The real issue here is not religion. It's that some people are good, and some people are bad. Good people very rarely need an excuse or a justification for their actions. Bad people do. And it's a hard thing to take personal responsibility for ones actions, so much so that blaming others has become pandemic in society. Religion is just one scapegoat. But personal responsibility and thinking for oneself are not mutually exclusive with respect to religion. The search for religious truth is called theology, and the admission of responsibility is called penance.

Just because certain people use religion as a shield for their deeds doesn't mean that religion is good or bad. It is what we make it.

Difficult to distinguish creed from deed

In his writeup above Orange Julius makes a number of most eloquent arguments concerning the benefits of religion. His main defensive point seems to be that there exists a "true" religion (in some Platonic sense), which is independent of any misinterpretations by its followers (e.g. fundamentalism, heresy), and of their evil misdeeds (e.g. religious war, intolerance, suicide bombing). A religion should hence not be judged by the deeds of its followers, but by the tenets of the religion itself, which are for the most part benign and virtuous.

I would like to make a short argument for the position that a separation of religious (or even political) creed from deed is not possible.

Identifying characteristics

In order for a belief system to be called a religion, it must have at least two characteristics:

  • faith:
    a strong emotional belief in something that doesn't need to be substantiated by anything except by the inner convictions of the believer.
  • collectivity:
    individual faith may be private, but the articles of faith are shared by many.

Modicums of difference

Now we can see quite plainly that separating the religion from its followers is a contradiction in terms -- a religion without followers is by definition no religion. How do the followers identify their True Religion? How do the faithful obtain consensus about what, precisely, constitutes the True Religion? In scientific matters such a consensus is possible, because even if a scientific theory may also be seen as a belief, it is at least mainly based on external observation and evidence. But here we are exclusively dealing with my inner "blind faith", which in all likelihood is a modicum different from your inner "blind faith".

If faith were a completely private affair, there would be no problem. We would all coop up in our respective private closets of worship and do our strictly private thing. However, for a particular "blind faith" to be counted as a religion, it needs to be shared by others, preferably by many. So here we arrive at a familiar situation in the field of religion -- a conflict between different interpretations or ideas that can not be resolved. Because by definition, there is nothing objective that we can refer to in matters of faith.

Battles for dogma

This understandably leads to a battle among the faithful for a unique wall-to-wall dogma. Fights over matters that can not be resolved by objective means are in the end always resolved by coercion, psychological or physical. So the misdeeds of the combatants are clearly a direct result of the religion itself, not simple aberrations on the part of a few misguided souls.

Hence religions (and their close relatives, dogmatic political movements) are always potentially dangerous to society, no matter what wonderful things the creed promises. Keeping religion hermetically sealed away from society is one essential way of controlling the potential damage before it occurs.

Clearly, if you put your "faith" in meaningless dogma, you are going to have to use force to get others to join you, because that's stupid.

If, on the other hand, you put your faith in the power of "love", and your conduct consists of works of charity and mercy, people might be persuaded to join you because of your beliefs, not in spite of them. This is how Christianity grew from an obscure Jewish sect to the state religion of the Roman Empire: progressive social ideas and rigorous social welfare programs. More recently, activists who believed in love and held strictly to a religious ethic of non-violence have achieved significant political change: Martin Luther King, Gandhi. I recall seeing on television a Buddhist monk pour gasoline on himself, light it and burn until his corpse fell over, to protest the Vietnam War. That single act probably did more than ten thousand peace marches or a million enemy bullets to show Americans how insane the war was.

That's religion. The rest is bullshit.


The learned paraclete tells me that the monk I refer to was named Thich Quang Duc, and "he wasn't protesting against the war, he was protesting against the oppression of his religion by the Vietnamese government." I don't think this detracts from my point, but it's good to know.

Yes, it's GTKY. Sue me.

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