How Large is your Penis?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Is Religion Evil?

When it comes to skeptic's opinion about religion it often consists of two differing ideas. One of them is that religion is evil, the cause of most of the world's problems and if we get rid of it the world would be a much better place. The second one is that religion is a poison. I will refer to these as the Richard Dawkins' approach and the Christopher Hitchen's approach, respectively.

I do not think that religion is inherently evil. It is true that most of our history is the result of religious conflict between different groups of people. But it is not that religion is inherently evil, however. I plan to write in the future what I think is the major source of all our conflict in the world but for now I just want to say that religion has created very strong differences between different groups of people. It were these differences that lead to the conflict and wars that most our history is soaked with blood with.

Now if you look at the 20th century you realize something interesting. All the major wars were not the result of religion whatsoever. You even had some atheistic countries which were responsible for mass genocide, such as the Soviet Union. However, the Soviet Union did not kill for religious reasons. Nor did Nazi Germany kill for religious reasons (they were Christian). Nazi Germany and Soviet Union killed for different reasons. Because the nations were able to identity themselves, not with religion, but with something else. It were these differences that developed into the conflicts, religion had nothing to do with this. Approximately 200 million people were murdered by states and wars in the 20th century, little of that had to do with religion.

Thus, if you are the supporter of the Richard Dawkins approach you need to answer this problem. How can you claim that religion is the majority cause of the problems in the world and ignore the 20th century? Richard Dawkins would have us believe that if we get rid of religion everything would be nice and peaceful. Of course, I know I just strawmaned his position, however, it is not that much off from what Dawkins is saying, his position is similar to how I described it. And it is here that I lose a lot of respect for Dawkins (I never once liked Dawkins). When Dawkins was asked about Stalin his response was that Stalin was "like a religious person". Wow, Dawkins committing the no-true Scottsman fallacy, I would expect more from him. The problem with the Dawkins' approach to religion is that it does not address the problem I set up.

The approach that I much strongly prefer is the Hitchen's approach. It does not say that religion is inherently evil. It does not say that if religion is gone the world would be so much better. It says that religion is a poison. It is not necessary for morals. It does not add nearly as much to morals as it takes away from morals. You can see this among very fundamentalist religious followers. If they are very strict with their religion they often do very immoral things. Mainly the religious people that are good people are the liberal or moderate theists.

This is the approach that I hold. Religion is simply not necessary for our morals, it is not inherently evil however, furthermore it is a poison. It makes good people do bad things in many instances. If religion is magically gone tomorrow then the world will be better, but not so much better, there would be a lot of conflict nonetheless.


  1. Religion is like a tool. A hammer can be used to build and destroy. So can religion.
    Yes, the Crusaders who burned and pillaged their way across Europe and Israel committed their atrocities in the name of their religion. However, the famine relief groups in Africa and Mother Theresa used that same religion to help the poorest of the poor and did things no one else would do to alleviate their suffering.
    Dawkins and Hitchens have two massive flaws in their thinking:
    1) They simplify all religions into one concept even through many religions have very different principles and recommended behaviours. If you said "All blacks are..." or "All socialist is..." you would rightly be accused of intellectual weakness. So too in their case.
    2) They themselves are quite religious. They have raised atheism into a religion with themselves as the high priests of the new faith. They simply refuse to admit that they have become God-free versions of what they so like to deride.

  2. Great Post!

    I completely agree with your objection to Dawkins. All ideologies can turn extreme and be used to justify killing people (religion just happens to be the most common one at this stage in human history)

    The only thing that makes religion more poisonous than other ideologies IMHO is I imagine people are more motivated to kill if God tells them to do it than if a Fuhrer/the state commands it. After all you can hide from the Fuhrer but God will always know where you live!

    Though I don't know perhaps dedicated communists are as willing to submit themselves to the will of the state as religious people are willing to submit themselves to the will of YHWH/Christ/Allah.

    I think religion might have some good to it but that just might be my conditioning talking

  3. Garnel: >Religion is like a tool. A hammer can be used to build and destroy. So can religion.

    So you openly admit that religion is no more than a tool. Like a hammer, as you so eloquently put it. Or a gun or a car or a pen. Which would make it a morally-neutral thing by definition. A hammer can be used to hurt or build, but the hammer has little say in how it's used. So too religion. So your lame bullshit about "God loves, man kills" is ridiculous. Rather, man loves and man kills--and he'll most likely use God as a justification for either course of action. God is lo haya v'lo yiyeh. It's not every day a religious apologist concedes that God is nothing more than a political trick.

    >Yes, the Crusaders who burned and pillaged their way across Europe and Israel committed their atrocities in the name of their religion

    No mention of atrocities done in the name of atheism. Why is that?

  4. According to Garnel, Nazi Germany was an "avowedly atheist political movement."


  5. I agree with Garnel's first point -- that religion can be used for good or evil. (His second point, that atheism is like a religion, is not true.)

    Religion does two big things that affect behavior.

    One is to instill confidence in the believer that he is Objectively Correct. This allows him to commit monstrosities that his conscience wouldn't allow him to commit without religion. (I.e. it destroys moral humility.) The other side of that coin is that it also reduces stress and provides motivation for those doing great works of good, like (allegedly) Mother Theresa.

    The second big thing is that it binds people into large groups. This can be very dangerous, as it means that the conflicts that happen are much bigger and (due to the first big thing) much more vicious. It also provides a lot of benefits, like civilization, widespread trade, agriculture, etc.

    The fact that things like nationalism, communism, and fascism can also do some of the bad things that religion does is not a refutation that religion does those bad things, just of the straw man idea that ONLY religion does those bad things. Whether Dawkins genuinely believes that I don't know.

    What I love about Dawkins is that he is out there bravely leading the charge, speaking for those who previously lived "in the closet." Just as the earliest gay-rights activists or the earliest feminists or the earliest Zionists or the earliest whoevers sometimes (often) go over-the-top in support of their cause, Dawkins does it too. But it's that same stridency and confidence that allows the greater (and more moderate) movement that they represent the opportunities to thrive and flourish.

    Without Dawkins, Hitchens might never have achieved the level of fame (for being an atheist) that he has.

  6. JA, I agree that atheism is and of itself is not a religion. It's simply an opinion. Fine. However, folks like Dawkins and Hitchens (could I just call them Datchens to save time?) have created a new movement of atheists that strongly resembles a religious movement. They have a godhead, or more correctly, a specific lack of one. They have a common set of beliefs that identify members as opposed to outsiders. They have a series of writings that support the philosophy of this system. Calling it Atheismism might be more correct to differentiate it from general atheism but sounds stupid.
    All the things you mentioned religion doing are not unique to religion but to any mass movements. Again, perhaps to differentiate we could term one religion and the other religious behaviour. Thus Fascism and Communism engaged in religious behaviour despite not properly being religions. Datchens are also engaging in religious behaviour in their opposition to religion. Ironic, isn't it.

  7. There were no wars committing in the name of atheism. There were atheists who killed people on a massive scale, but it was not done because of atheism, understand this difference. Hitler and Stalin both had mustaches. They did not kill because they hated the non-mustache wearers. They killed for different reasons and they happened to have mustaches as a side result. When a Jewish rabbi mutilates the genitals of a baby boy and then sucks on his penis to get rid of the blood he is doing the pedophilic act precisely because of Judaism. When a Jewish pedophile sucks on a penis of boys he is not doing it because of Judaism, rather he is doing it because he is a pedophile and happens to be Jewish. Understand this important difference. No wars were every caused by atheism.

    Garnel: Mother Teresa was a dispicable person. She stole from the poor to give to the Church. She condemned the use of condoms which lead to so many deaths in Africa. And she won the Nobel peace prize (this shows what a joke the Nobel peace prize is). But what is interesting is that before she said she wrote some letters where she confesses that she gave up all faith. Strangely the Catholics still believe she was on of the saints. Christopher Hitchen's wrote a book about her called, "The Missionary Position". I never read it, but the title is pure win!

    Jewish Atheist: I think Hitchens is not as popular as Dawkins is because of his politics. I have heard other freethinkers complain about this part of Hitchens. He is not your typical liberal atheist and because of that most atheists prefer Dawkins to Hitchens. By the way, Hitchens, surprisingly, came up as a pro-life guy. This is what I love about Hitchens. He is a true freethinker. He would take positions that typical people like himself as not expected to take.

    I am not sure why you give so much praise to Dawkins for leading the atheist movement. There were so many other atheists before Dawkins, many years ago. Friedrich Nietzsche was a notable atheist, so was Bertrand Russel but they never seemed to have influenced so many people. Plently of philosophers from the Enlightenment refuted various arguments for God and others were in the closet atheists (like David Hume). These people lead the foundation of disbelief. Dawkins seems to be the one who was just the most popular about it. And I am not sure why.

  8. >There were no war committed in the name of atheism

    Mainly because it is yet to become a mass movement. In the future it might be the cause of wars.

    People like Nietzsche and Russel did not have the charisma to inspire atheism. For atheism to catch on it would need to simplify everything and make it understandable to the masses. Nowadays atheism is a rather intellectual position (just like Marxism was) it will only become popular when its "dumbed down" a bit. (and maybe that's what Dawkins is accomplishing)

  9. Garnel:

    However, folks like Dawkins and Hitchens (could I just call them Datchens to save time?) have created a new movement of atheists that strongly resembles a religious movement.

    I don't agree. We don't go to services every week, we don't have prayers, we don't have rituals, we don't send our kids to schools that indoctrinate our children with atheism. There are no denominations. There are no priests or rabbis.

    The atheist movement is more like the gay movement or the feminist movement. It's just saying, we're here, get used to it.


    I don't think anybody puts Dawkins up there with the true atheist greats like Nietzche or Russell or even your namesake. He's just the guy who's alive today and speaking out in the English-speaking world.

  10. Shilton: This is a little related to what you are saying. A lot of atheists, most of them, have the feeling of intellectual superiority over theists. Many of them would deny this but it is true, I certainly feel this way. Atheists often argue with theists because they love to take control of the argument, for it is easy to argue for atheism. Einstein described these atheists as, "still feeling the chains of slavery", so they need to go out of their way to make themselves feel intellectually superior.

  11. "I don't agree. We don't go to services every week, we don't have prayers, we don't have rituals, we don't send our kids to schools that indoctrinate our children with atheism. There are no denominations. There are no priests or rabbis.":

    I want to add something important.

    Hitchens DOES NOT teach his daughter about atheism. He said he only teaches her what we know and she is to make up her mind when she gets older. In fact, she goes to a Quaker school so she can be expoused to other religions. Hitchens makes no attempt at all to tell her what to believe. He only helps her in making the decision that she believes to be true. If Hitchens was really a religious person as Garnel described then he would be working at making his daughter into a hardcore atheist also.

  12. Another difference is I wouldn't throw a shit fit if my child became religious or married a religious person.