Zeno sent me this link to an article by Jon Carroll—Carroll is one of those “eh, so what” members of the godless community, who probably rolls his eyes at those uppity atheists who get so obnoxious about the role of religion in our culture, while at the same time recognizing that there are some problems that need to be fought…one of those annoyingly tepid unbelievers, anyway. And that’s OK. I actually agree with a big chunk of what he writes. This point, in particular, is one that’s important:
But there’s one idea that comes up in these discussions that I want to talk about; it’s the notion that “religion is responsible for most of the war and suffering in the world,” or however it’s phrased. You know, the Crusades, the Inquisition, colonialism cloaked in Christianity, bigotry against women cloaked in Islam or Hinduism — the list is pretty long.
I don’t believe that it’s religion’s fault. I believe that human nature is responsible for war and torture and intolerance. I believe that we are beasts, and that every institution we set up reflects our bestial nature. If we drag God into it, it’s because we feel shame for our actions. “Sure, seems bad to kill babies, but God told me to do it, so it must be OK.”
I agree. I don’t blame religion for all evil, and I think that if religion vanished overnight, there would be no overall change in the levels of atrocity, crime, poverty, starvation, pollution, etc. We would just find new excuses to rationalize away our actions. Some would stop—suicide bombing becomes a particularly stupid act when one believes in one life and no reward in a paradise—but those are just spectacularly notable actions among a great sea of day-to-day horrors that go on.
However, what would go away is a barrier that hinders us from working to prevent the actual problems. Poof away the religious element, and the Middle East suddenly becomes a conflict between people trying to find autonomy and respect and security, and the unresolvable problems of superstitious, irrational demands are no longer in operation. It doesn’t mean the conflict goes away, of course…just that now there is one less silly obstacle in the way of fixing it. Poverty and famine and disease don’t disappear, either, but being able to work on those problems without the religious clutter of goofy beliefs about reproduction would go a long way towards allowing us to address root causes.
It also removes the complacency barrier. Religion is an excuse that many unbelievers, including Jon Carroll, seem to accept without question. Why should we? When someone defends special treatment because of their religion (“my child should not have to learn about evolution, because it offends my faith”) why should we accept it? Why not insist on an actual, reasonable, rational excuse?
I’m also not at all impressed with this line of argument.
Religion also provides rituals, and humans find solace in ritual. Maybe it’s all a lie, blah blah blah, but how can solace be bad? How can comfort be evil? Man, shut up and listen to the music; be still and smell the flowers. There’s room here for all of us; atheists, of all people, should understand that point.
No one, as far as I know, is suggesting that all human ritual be abolished; it’s fine with me if you go to church every Sunday and snort incense and recite the same old lines of antique poetry each time, and I can even understand how some people might find that pleasant (not for me, though, but I doubt anyone goes to church to make me content.)
The question about how comforting lies can be bad, though…come on. Isn’t that obvious? If you want your soma, you might feel good, but you also get heedlessness and neglect. How many good Christians sit back and let the status quo stand, or even engage in petty oppression, because their pastor lies to them and tells them that God wills it? Insh’allah is a recipe for defeatism and resignation.
Worst of all, it’s lazy. When critical thinking and skepticism are among your most important values, religion, as the abnegation of those values, is not going to regarded highly. If Mr Carroll wants to just admit that he’s not interested in thinking deeply and prefers pretty lies, that’s fine—he should just admit that up front, though, rather than indirectly, by telling us religion doesn’t bother him in the slightest.