Friday, August 26, 2011

Some opinions on religion.

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:


  1. Wow, brave soul to tackle this one. Not surprisingly, the Chimp is able to tackle an edgy subject in a respectful way; able to take a position without hurling insults.
    As you may know, one of my favorite individuals to study is Thomas Jefferson. TJ belonged to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia where they would delve into all subjects including the occasional foray into religion and politics. Sometimes discussions would get heated. As alternative he also hosted a regular dinner at his house which he would show off his garden, research, or some project. This was followed by dinner, drinks, discussions, and critiques. “However” TJ stated, “Anyone who brought up the subjects of religion or politics would be brought down by laughter, ribbing, and guffaws.” Quote is from memory and is not exact. Even one of the most opinionated men of all time had to take a break from time to time from religion and politics.
    If I may indulge in compliments to the Chimp, I like the fact that you are able to hit on an eclectic array of topics and occasionally hit a political or religious note. Even more indulging – it’s very Jeffersonian.

  2. Olaf, thanks for commenting. I like the Jefferson anecdote. It would be nice if we could return to an age of civility where people discussed and disagreed without hatred. However, as I write this, I recall that people of his era also fought duels over insults, so maybe we have progressed a little. Maybe.