The First and Second Amendments

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?


  1. jjgdenisrobert says

    “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. ” — Steven Weinberg.

    ’nuff said.

  2. says

    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…

    The 2nd amendment specifies neither guns nor bullets, and I don’t see any legal argument that would somehow cut along that line.

  3. had3 says

    Do we want a world free from delusional thought process? hmmmm, what’s the argument in favor of delusional thought processes?

    • Roger says

      The big problem isn’t delusional thought processes; the big problem is the most likely method of getting rid of delusional thought processes, which is getting rid of people with delusional thought processes.

      • Roger says

        should read:

        The big problem isn’t getting rid of delusional thought processes; the big problem is the most likely method of getting rid of delusional thought processes, which is getting rid of people with delusional thought processes.

  4. says

    What’s the argument in favor of delusional thought processes?

    There are myriad examples where delusional thinking has been beneficial. Endeavors from courting to entrepreneurial and scientific experimentation likely get more done because people overestimate their odds for success.

    Think of any politician who has done good things, and yet his success depends on politics. And if you think success there doesn’t depend on propagating some delusion, you don’t understand it.

    Many political, business, and personal relationships have some delusions in their framework.

    There is a chicken and egg problem, in the sense that a lot of the examples of benefit stem from the fact that delusion is so deeply ingrained in human behavior. But precisely because of that, it’s difficult to answer the question Slate poses. What would the world look like without delusional thinking? I don’t know. What imaginary beings inhabit it. Not people, that’s for certain.

  5. mikespeir says

    Gotta have some kind of operating system; and however you construct it, there are people who will call it a religion.

  6. Robert B. says

    Well, if you mean faith-based religion, as opposed to some kind of hypothetical rationalist religion that was factually true and ethically sound and founded by Jeffreysai the magical flying pony, then yes, we should want a world where it doesn’t exist. Religion is false; people should only believe things that are true.

    Can we do it? Probably not 100%, there’s always someone who will believe some stupid thing that everyone else knows is false. But we can probably, someday, eventually, wreck religion as an organized, powerful, popular force as it is today. We do it the same way we’ve always gotten rid of wrong ideas, by refuting and debunking and explaining. It’s just going to be a LOT of work. And we are by no means guaranteed success, though I’m hopeful.

  7. Barry says

    I’m with you on guns. Other than legitimate sport and animal control I don’t see why anyone needs a gun.

    But I think you are completely wrong when you say “…religion does not cause people to become evil.” all manner of religious beliefs are used by essentially “good” (meaning otherwise law abiding and trustworthy) people to do wicked things – catholics justifying opposition of condoms in Africa on the belief that they are worse than aids is one such example.

  8. Lauren Ipsum says

    The guns/ammo suggestion is exactly the rule at my house. I told my husband he can own as many weapons as he wants… but he’s not allowed to have the ammo for them.

    I suppose the religious equivalent would be “You can think any damn fool thing you want, but keep it in your own house and don’t impose it on me via law or try to put it in my kid’s school or in my doctor’s office or pharmacy.”

  9. longstreet63 says

    My thoughts: Religion is a means of maintaining control. It was designed to allow the few to control the many. We have other ways to do that now. Not that this is a good goal, per se, but it seems to be a natural part of human society. Religion, nationalism, aristocracy–pretty awful, and should be obsolete in favor of methods like rule of law.
    Get rid of religion and something like it will take its place.
    Mighty tempting, though.
    Guns, interestingly, came about as a means to break the prevailing methods of control at the time of their introduction: aristocrats in armor, trained in killing. Thanks to guns, anybody could kill anybody. No need for skill at arms. Guns made possible the great revolutions and their threat drove a some of the basic social changes, particularly in the 19th century.
    That said, the individual right to bear arms that reflected that is also obsolete. The kind of arms available to the state vs the citizen have diverged too much, at least in the west, to make revolution feasible.
    Now, they’re just tools of chaos.
    But get rid of them and the samurai classes would be back in a few generations.
    Sorry for rambling.

  10. Crommunist says


    There is actually some psychological evidence to suggest that the mere presence of a gun increases the likelihood of violent behvaiour, irrespective of the other situational varaibles. It turns out that guns don’t kill people, but they do make people more likely to try.

  11. says

    It’s not that churches (and religion) are inherently evil. It’s that they are festering concentrated pools of crazy.

    When all you hear, 3 times a week, is “Love the sinner, hate the sin” and “God or hell”, year after year, decade after decade, it BECOMES reality to these people.

    It’s brainwashing pure and simple. You get hammered with it enough and it becomes true… for you and the tiny little circle jerk you call a church family.

    Then, you think it is true and because it comes from ‘God’ there is no amount of rational and critical thinking that will change your mind.

  12. KennyG says

    Would the world be better off without religion? Probably; it would be one less thing to kill each other over.

    The death of religion will never happen, however. That natural tendency of people to groupthink and to attribute events to agent causation when there is none means that religion will be part of culture until the end of our species.

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