Monday, August 13, 2012

Just a Quick Note

I'm sick and tired of people saying that religion poisons everything.  It seems to be a common refrain among atheists who aren't content to personally not believe in a higher power.

It's also something that should be easily countered with examples of both the benefits of religion and the times that atheism didn't necessarily mean better society.  Yet people continually insist that, without fail, religion is never benevolent or beneficial, and atheism is always better, even though is is clearly false.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German minister, fought the Nazi persecution of Jewish people, and even was part of a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, until he was arrested and hanged.

Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, was inspired by Jesus' teachings of forgiveness of one's enemies and turning the other cheek, as well as the philosophy of Gandhi (himself Hindu but also fascinated with Christianity).  He led the Civil Rights movement in the American south by utilizing nonviolent strategies to bring about radical change*.

American nuns are currently being investigated by the Vatican because they're devoting all of their energies to helping the poor and the needy.  You can say nasty things about the Vatican, but these loving nuns are of the same religion as the men trying to put them down.

For God's sake, our own president, whom many of these anti-religion people love, is a devout Christian.  He said so multiple times during the '08 campaign.

Don't even get me started on how, when some of these religions first became their own coherent organized things, they actually improved upon the cultures which first adopted them**.

So please, for the love of all that is good in the world, stop saying religion poisons everything.  It's not true.

Need more evidence?  Watch Dan Merchant's Lord, Save Us From Your Followers.  It's an excellent documentary for the religious and non-religious alike.  While some of the individuals interviewed say things which will make some of us uncomfortable (Rick Santorum is interviewed), the whole thing is enlightening and special.

Watch it, please.  And stop shredding the memory of so many religious people, whose faith led them to do great good, by saying with such certainty that religion poisons everything.

*Christopher Hitchens, I hear, tried to argue that MLK was never truly Christian because he preached love and forgiveness.  I call BS.
**I can't resist offering some examples, though: 1.) The Persian Empire kept no slaves, because the empire's religion, Zoroastrainism, banned slavery 2.) Islam gave women more cultural significance and more rights than they had before 3.) In the early days of Christianity, when they were still being slaughtered by the Romans, the small groups of Christians around cared for the poor and needy around them, with women having just as prominent of roles as men

By the way: I know the average atheist is no more or less moral than the average religious person.  But religion has been a powerful force in shaping these people I mention who have worked for the greater good.


  1. No, religion is not evil, and it definitely has its strong points. However, you can't bring up religious history without the Crusades. The countless religious wars. Institutionalized prejudice, and religion's use as justification for cultural eradication, slavery, and violence.

    It has also resulted in incredibly moral people and social movements, and some of the most beautiful works of art known to history.

    Just as any human construct, religion is guided by human factors. Those factors involve compassion and community and creativity, but also include fear and hatred and ignorance and hunger for power. Ignoring the harm that religion has been involved in is just as much of a fallacy as ignoring the good it's been involved in.

    Try to understand that in the U.S. and most of Europe, Christians are not an oppressed group. At all. Period. Moreover, Christianity has been historically oppressive to many groups. I'm not saying all Christianity or all Christians. Not in the least. But when some of the more oppressive acts of Christians still have effects felt today, and some of the most vocal and visible members of Christianity are currently pushing an incredibly oppressive agenda, is it any wonder that there's backlash?

    Think of it this way. When racial minorities are angry with white people as a whole, or women angry with men as a whole, or members of the LGBTQ community at heterosexuals as a whole, it may not be entirely rational, but it's understandable. When a group has had to put up with year after year after year of incredibly toxic oppressive attitudes and actions from vocal members of the privileged group, attitudes and actions that historically and currently threaten their well-being, it's really easy to see the privileged group as a homogenous mass of hatred. That's where a lot of people are coming from. People have a right to their anger, even if it feels unfair as part of the privileged group. As part of the privileged group, the key is to not take it personally.

    1. I understand. I've read your thoughts on this before on your own blog, and I'm aware that in this country, I'm coming from a place of privilege and I'm part of a group which has in the past and present had certain members commit great evil.

      Indeed, as a queer person, I'm often suspicious of devout religious people, even though I'm also devoutly religious. It's so bad that when my family, as part of our search for a new church home, went to a place that wasn't necessarily gay-affirming, I was anxious, even though the service itself went pretty well and people were friendly.

      But the key, I think, is that the anger and the hatred of religious people against those whom they would oppress is because they're people, not necessarily because they're religious. There is nothing inherently violent about the tenets of many faiths, be it Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Wicca, whatever. For me, the problem comes when religion is blamed for the crimes of people who call themselves religious. This post was, in fact, inspired by a post I saw on Facebook which mentioned that a soldier who is currently on trial for murder cried out "God is great" in Arabic before opening fire, and used that as evidence that religion is evil. I used examples of Christians because that's what I know best. If I were Muslim, I'd use examples from Islam. If I were Buddhist, I'd use examples from Buddhism. Being raised Christian, the most powerful pro-religion images I can find happen to be Christian.

      The problem is with people who use religion to divide people rather than bring them together, not with the religion itself. There is nothing in the five pillars of Islam that says to kill non-Muslims. When Jesus talks about the final judgment of humanity, He talks about separating the wicked and selfish from the compassionate, not this religion from that religion. It's people, needing an enemy, who go out and cause harm. Even the Crusades were more about political power than about religion.

      So what I'm trying to say is that, while I come from a place of privilege as a Christian and talked mostly about Christianity specifically in my post, my anger is in defense of all religious people, even those who don't believe the same as me, because the ideals of the religions themselves are often universal, healing truths (the Golden Rule, care for the poor, etc.). I feel the anger should be directed at the people twisting religion, including and especially "Christians" who use certain verses in the Bible as an excuse to hate, but not at the religions themselves.