On Chimpwithpencil, I usually stick to subjects from the Arts and Sciences, like history or technology or nature. I avoid politics not because of a lack of interest, but more like a general disgust. Religion is also tricky. I have friends of various religions, as well as friends who are agnostics and atheists, so I try not to push a particular religion on anyone. In fact, I think the major world religions are quite similar.
But several times lately, I've read or heard the assertion that religions have caused more wars and suffering than any other force in history.
So my essay today revolves around the assertion that religions cause wars. And to further it, is civilization better off without religion?
Religions that last centuries move through phases, sometimes including a militant phase. People are quick to mention the Christian crusades or the Spanish Inquisition. In modern times we have Islamic fundamentalism and the terrorist groups it has spawned, so it's easy to for people to point and say, "Look at all the misery religion is causing."
But a quick look at the past 100 years yields an interesting view into this argument. Much of the death and destruction in the 20th century was brought about by atheists. Instead of the cool, scientific, rational approach to human affairs I often read about as an argument for atheism, instead we had war and suffering. Let's look at some examples.
Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union was an atheist, and his policies killed or enslaved millions. Chairman Mao in China tried to separate his people from their traditional beliefs in Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism with lethal results. Pol Pot in Cambodia was similar. Adolph Hitler in World War 2 may have led a predominantly Christian country, but he was not a Christian himself. Although you might argue that his fascination with the occult constituted a sort of religion. Apparently atheists have managed to start wars and conduct genocide without the benefit of any militant religious structure.
You could take the argument further and ask if the world is better off discarding religion in favor of atheism. But when I look around at the breakdown of families, societies and countries, I don't see how we're better off. While you dissect the tenets of a particular religion, you might miss the fact that most provide a fairly similar set of morals to live by. Religions provide a set of guidelines for human conduct.
Laws are fine, but if you only abide by them because you're afraid of going to prison, then you can be evil all you want when you know you won't be punished. And laws don't cover all situations. For instance, it's not illegal to cheat on your spouse, but most people agree that it's wrong.
I do not support anyone who uses their religion as an excuse to oppress others. But I do question this constant assertion that humanity would be better off to cast aside its religions. Science explains the universe, but it doesn't tell us how to act within it. For all their problems, at least religions give us a set of guidelines. Most important, religions teach us to distinguish between good and evil, and give us the courage and motivation to do something about it.
(In case anyone missed the title at the top, the essay above is my opinion. I support your right to disagree. The pic is from: http://intothebush.com)