Slate magazine is sponsoring a debate over the question, “Would the world be better off without religion?” That’s an interesting topic in and of itself, but I had a brief bout of Free Association Syndrome that launched me off on an intriguing tangent. I look at the question “Would the world be better off without religion?” and think, “How does that compare to the question of whether or not the world would be better off without guns?”
What got me going on this tangent was the observation that “religion is not the real problem.” That is, as some folk are prone to point out, religion does not cause people to become evil, and getting rid of religion will not purge mankind of evil tendencies. That was my first reaction to the debate question, but then I immediately thought of the slogan “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” And I realized they’re both the same argument.
Both arguments are technically true: guns, by themselves, do not kill people, and religion, by itself, does not cause people to become evil. To focus too closely on this one technicality, however, is to overlook a significant caveat. Even if such things are not the sole cause of the harm they produce, they can still be a significant factor in exacerbating the damage that is done.
You can kill somebody without a gun, but the gun makes it easier: it allows you to act without necessarily thinking, and to attack in a way that is very difficult to defend against. In the same way, religion may not be the root cause of, say, anti-gay bigotry, but it can nevertheless be a significant factor in amplifying individual prejudice into national persecution against gays. If each believer had his or her own personal religion, that nobody else believed in, then they would be like the murderer without a gun: the animosity is still there, but they have one less weapon to deploy, and the alternatives are more work, and riskier. That in itself might be enough of a deterrent to justify pursuing the suppression/regulation of things like guns and religion.
I’m speaking purely theoretically, of course. In practice, you can regulate guns more easily, since they’re a physical product, though of course you have political ramifications to deal with. (I’ve always thought that, in deference to the Second Amendment, Congress should allow you to have all the guns you want, and just outlaw the bullets, but that’s another tangent.) Religion, by contrast, is not a physical product, and can’t be so easily regulated. Attempting to ban it or suppress it only fans the flames of fanaticism.
My response to that is a bit of reverse psychology: expose it. Let people see what it really is, and laugh at it. Don’t try to stifle it or hide it, get it out where everyone can see how bizarre and ridiculous it is. Then encourage them to make up a better one, if they so desire. Individual religion is less of a liability; the damage done by religion is done by its mob psychology. No mob, no damage.
Well, that’s enough tangents for one post. Like I said in my last post, I’m out of town for the rest of the week, so I wanted to leave you guys with something to talk about. Do you think we should want a world free from religion (i.e. not just from specific religions like Christianity, but from religion itself)? Should we just target the most virulent and destructive of religions, like Christianity and Islam? And if we want to eliminate religion, can we do it? If so, how?