Saturday, September 22, 2007

The God Delusion, part 8 – What’s wrong with religion? Why be so hostile

I do not think that religion is the only source of evil in this world. Humans have an instinct to form groups, and to amplify the differences between the in-group and the out-group. I am myself a fan of Manchester United, and for some weird reason I can get a little bit upset when someone criticize a player in the team or something similarly harmless. Now, I would never act on such feeling, however, there are fans or hooligans who in fact get into fights for such reasons, unbelievable as that may sound… I think that mankind will probably always find something to fight about, however, I also think that religion is the worst culprit of all when it comes to creating conflicts between groups. In chapter eight of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins addresses the very frequent question "what is wrong with religion"?

The danger of Islamic fundamentalism is obvious to most people. Last weekend I watched the movie United 93. Even though I have seen those planes fly into the world trade center thousands of times I still just cannot understand or accept that any human being can plan and execute such a deed which intentionally strikes against civilians, many of whom have had absolutely nothing to do with the miseries that the Muslim world has experienced. To take a plane full of civilians in great despair and then fly that plane right into a building with more such civilians is an act that must require a lot of faith. 9/11 was no zenith of terrorism. According to “The Religion of” Islamic terrorists have carried out more than 9500 deadly terror attacks since 9/11.

Islam is not the only religion with blood on its hands though. In Africa, countless massacres has been carried out in the name of Christianity. See for example Joseph Kony (see picture), proclaimed spirit medium and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

So where does religious extremism stem from, what causes it? I have not read any studies on this, and if someone could enlighten me then I would be grateful. However, I think it is beyond reasonable doubt that religion has to take part of the blame. In particular, the problem with almost all religions is that they teach the young that blind faith is a virtue. To doubt in God when there is no evidence is for some reason a horrible crime. As a consequence, religious people often cannot tell you what it would take for them to stop believing. This is one of the things that separates science and religion. Dawkins writes:

But my belief in evolution is not fundamentalism, and it is not faith, because I know what it would take to change my mind, and I would gladly do so if the necessary evidence were forthcoming.

There are well documented differences in peoples' tendency to be open minded. Some individuals are born with a taste for absolute rules and principles and a great dislike for grey-scale ethics and knowledge. One could add to the speculation above that if individuals of this kind, who score low on openness, is brought up in say a Christian family, then it is probable that this individual will become more extreme in his/her faith than the parents. Maybe, unlike the parents, the youngster decides that the bible must be read literally and then he read from the bible that “He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed” (Exodus 22.20), right there you have the birth of an extremist. Dawkins explains it perhaps more elegantly than me when he writes:

The teachings of 'moderate' religion, though not extremist in themselves are an open invitation to extremism.

The religious movement in the United States seems to have abandoned the founding fathers' ideal of a true secular state. The intelligent design movement tries to bring religion into the classroom, a goal which may become a problem for them since the creator is not specified. Meanwhile there are the so called pro-life politicians (ironically, the same politicians tends to be strong proponents of the death penalty), who want a ban on abortion for faith based reasons. The religious movement in America has culminated (I hope) in a group referred to by outsiders as The American Taliban. I can find no difference between their rhetoric and that of Osama Bin Laden. According to Ann Coulter:

"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war."

Anyways, the main problem with faith and the answer to the question "what is wrong with religion" is that it idealizes faith without evidence. It is really hard to argue with someone who merely says "this is what I believe, and nothing can change that". Such an attitude makes it impossible to have discussion that is of any use. I will end with the following quote from Bertrand Russell (see picture) (which can also be found in The God Delusion):

Many people would sooner die than think. In fact they do.


Z said...

But what if a christian remembers these words in partical from the gospel:
"Turn the other cheek"
"Love thy neighbour" ?

And one can always find violent religious people, but there are also atheist folks who don't think about "turning the other cheek" to anything and seek revenge.
And a religious person with violent thoughts with a peaceful atheist, and i agree.

But if you compare a violent minded atheist with a christian "turn the other cheek and be peaceful"-one then i don't agree and don't prefer the non-religious one.

rasmussenanders said...

Thanks for the comment Z,

It is of course hard to read the entire bible and interpret it literally becuase it so often contradicts itself. Jesus said the sabbath is for man not the other way around, yet God orders the stoning of a man who was gathering sticks on the sabbath.

One can only hope that those who thinks that the bible it literally true remember the nicer passages and don't for instance abondon their families to seek Jesus.

About the bad atehist vs. good christian point it is of course true that there are many atheists who are worse or more evil than the best christians. That is not what I wanted to make a point about.

The important issue is whether religion systematically causes people to become more violent or hostile. I think it does for the reasons I have outlined here. Everything else beng equal, someone who has a rigid system of principles is more difficult to deal with and find compromises with than someone who is more flexible and open minded.

Anonymous said...

In all of the articles I have read on this debate (whether it be Dawkins and his lap-dogs bashing religion, or religion's lap-dogs bashing atheism) it still stands that there is one correct viewpoint. And, I don't see how that correct viewpoint will be made known when everyone is arguing against one another. To me it is painfully obvious that at least 50% of what Dawkins' writes is marketable drivel (i.e., he is just trying to make some money). In the same way, religion (and especially Christianity) has been abused in much the same way throughout history.

The question then stands, how will humanity reach it's final conclusion? I cannot answer this, but I don't think it will be through debate.

Also, I am tired of seeing atheists discredit the Bible as invalid because of the handful of contradictions that occur. The Bible is a unique book, not at all scientific in nature but also not completely poetic or fictitious. People spend their entire lives learning to understand this book (and some of these people are not even religion-followers).

For example, most people who has actually studied the Bible understand that in the Old Testament (i.e., the world before Christ) the sabbath was followed religiously as an act of obedience to the "God of Israel." Christ did not break the sabbath law, he fulfilled it in a way (or that is the terminology many use). This is not taken from a clear, direct quote from the Bible, so yes, it is up for debate, and no, you cannot debase it without actually studying the Bible. I will not try to disprove evolution with a similarly simple-minded argument, I wish the Dawkins-atheists would do the same.

Here is something I wish atheists would ponder. The age of modernity has led to a scientific religion (I know those two words shouldn't go together). The naturalistic viewpoint has been altered in such a way that it is no longer trying to explain science, but it is now trying to "disprove the existence of God." How could science possibly do that? Please think about that. Don't just think of your favorite argument to it, but actually think about the question itself. Atheism has been altered from a purely scientific theory into a pseudo-philosophy - a following of argument-toting religion-haters who take the pulpit to make Christians angry, and then have fun poking fun of Christians because they are so angry and violent.

(I have been reading through, none of my statements are directed towards you) I enjoyed reading over your blog though, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the anti-theists who want to wipe the religious off the map!