Who’s The Culprit?

It is often said (mainly by apologetics, and in a way, that’s how they’re defined) that religion is not to blame for religious bigotry or for religiously-motivated violence. The garden variety argument is that even though evil people can be religious, it is not religion itself that is responsible for their crimes and evil deeds.

An interesting discussion has sprouted at Sisyphus Fragment, and most interestingly so, the line of defense was held not by religious apologetics, but simply by everyday rational, coherent, intelligent people. The crux of their argument is that religious people would be ignorant to simply use religion (or brainwashed, and the difference is tricky) as a means to do evil, and that religion is not the only thing that’s being used to promote evil causes. This is very much true, and since no one said that religion is the only cause for evil, quite irrelevant in the defense of religion as a culprit.

An interesting argument defending religion arose when someone said that religion itself is not evil, but can be manipulated by evil men, and those attacking religion is not only pointless, but can be counter-productive. I’m not going to say anything about it being counter-productive not because I can’t imagine it being productive, but because I much rather base such a claim on credible sources and not just scatter historical examples and thought experiments.

What I will say, however, is that it is an interesting reduction of human evil to say that no doctrine of its own is culprable, including religious doctrine, but that only human beings are. In that respect, Nazis aren’t culprable by their adherence to the party, but only by the fact that they gassed prisoners to death (well, it’s more complicated than that, but the example is clear enough).

Anyway, I can’t completely disagree with that, and in many respects, I sometimes get the feeling that religious people get too much heat merely by entitling themselves religious. Religious people, like everyone else, pick and choose what they think is right or wrong (and many of them will agree, even elusively, that their morals are not dictated by the bible. No surprise there). So, this definitely flies in the face of every graffitti that goes “Christians are shit”, and even though a lot of well-intending atheists might sympathize (especially former Christians) with that sentence, I don’t.

But is Christianity, itself, a culprit? Obviously, Judaism will share the same cell should Christianity gets thrown to the tanty, but is it guilty of the crimes people commit in its name?

My answer to that is “not exactly”. Evil people will find some other way of grinding their axes at other people’s expense even if the Abarahamic religions never existed. The flip-side of that is that good men or women, or good-intending ones, might wrong their fellow mortals simply because the bible tells them so. They might even feel a horrible pain while doing so, and will even hate themselves for not being committed enough. They will feel a two-layered guilt: sympathy to the oppressed and servile guilt to their Master, the one who decreed that they should do things they really don’t want to, and really think they shouldn’t.

So addressing religion as “guilty” is meaningful only in the respect of specific laws and decrees that plainly, in a non-open-to-interpretation-way (see Deuteronomy), state that evil should be done. This is not an indictment of all religious people and not even of all religious laws or canonized books. This is an indictment of very specific laws that were barbaric when they were written (by whoever) and they’re still barbaric today, and religious people and athiests who aren’t, well, insane, will agree on that.

Jeff, a charming soul who also happens to be a Christian, would probably never even dream of committing any crimes in the name of Christianity or Jesus Christ, and he would agree that killing homosexuals is an evil decree (he won’t agree that that’s what the bible says, but if he did, he would agree it’s an evil religious decree).

So the real culprit is between the lines, not on the cover of the bible. Religion does not go to prison, only the written text in its holy books that sends good men to do the work for evil ones.


  1. galia Said:

    i guess i am one of those rational people defending religion… i think it is rediculous to seperate religion from human nature. men made religion and its building stones are the same ones which compose human nature. so no seperation is possible. violance, power, prejudice is innate to human nature, at different levels. non religious people or atheist people are also driven by the same forces. so, i don’t think religion or any doctrin is the cause – it is human nature which is the cause for any violance. people live in groups, groups choose leaders, groups make up their laws in order to conserve the group, and so on, be it religion or any other ideology.

  2. freidenker85 Said:

    Again, this reduction is besides the point. Of course all evil stems from human nature. By the same token, you would say that national socialism isn’t a bad doctrine because it’s bad people who engineered it and made it what it is today. I say: whichever leads to evil is evil, and laws can be evil on their own merit if they firmly encourage the acts of evil, even if those acts are encouraged to people who aren’t as evil as the authors of the law.

    Of course all evil stems from human beings, without human nature, “evil” and “good” are meaningless terms, but the question was whether or not religion itself contains evil rules that overpower even the good side of human nature and turn it into evil. Try removing the word “religious” from the phrase “religious law” and answer the question: “is this law a just one?”.

  3. galia Said:

    religion contains evil rules because human nature dictates that it will… now, since religion in its base is irrational, your question – is this law a just one, does not apply to it. off course most religious laws are not just. even those laws which are not evil, are not just. their motivation is not justice but something else. for example, circumsition (spelling?) is for sure not a just act. there are other, non logical reasons to do it.

  4. galia Said:

    and i am not here to defend religion, but i think its naive and not realistic to think that without religion the world would be a better place. people will always make up something they look up to and follow, don’t you think so?

  5. freidenker85 Said:

    Again, that religion has irrational laws does not absolve it of having evil laws. Since you’ve already given in to the fact that religion *does* have evil laws, I think it’d be beating a dead horse to continue addressing the matter.

    Secondly, I don’t know how naive it is to think that an irreligious world is a better one. Places with less religiosity tend to be more law-abiding, even today, and the inverse is true for more devout areas. Of course it won’t eliminate evil, but whoever said that it will? Is it really so bad to want to make the world as good a place as it can be? Even if only by a smidgen more? Is the world without the Nazis perfect? Without evil? No. Is it a better place? Hell yeah, and you would be the first to admit it.

  6. galia Said:

    i admit it..better without nazis. i think it is great (even if naive) to want to make the world better. off course i think many religous rules are evil and if i think rationally (which i mostly do) they are even dumb. but at the same time i understand the need for religion.
    what do you mean by places with less religiosity tend to be more law abiding? can you give me an example? do you mean like the usa, which still has in some places the death penalty, an example of evil in its non-religious form?

  7. freidenker85 Said:

    The blue states in the US have always been known to have a strong correlation of relative irreligiousity, better socioeconomic status and more law-abiding population. The UK is very irreligious compared to the US, and they have much less crime in there. This is true today, not in the past and not in a prospective future. Today.

    I also understand the need for religion, in the same way that I understand the need for sexual intercourse. This does mean that I’m okay with legalizing rape any more than I’m okay with allowing religious dogma to permeate everybody’s mind. That we have a nature does not indicate that accepting this nature as it is is the right thing for us. This need can be replaced by non-malign spirituality, the joy I used to have from religious faith has been replaced with the joy I have from riding a bicycle, reading books, doing martial arts and listening to wonderful music. People have needs, real-world needs, and these can be supplied to them without anyone being hurt, and without the wicked by-products that come with the fruits of religion.

  8. Daniel TNG Said:

    I think there is an inherent problem with certain aspects of religion. First of all, and most important, is the idea that the doctrine comes before everything else, because it is decreed by God. This blinds people and holds them back, introduces guilt and fear, is used as a crutch by weak people to stay weak, and by powerful people to become more powerful.
    This brings me to the second problem, which is organized religion and religious institutions. When a religion becomes institutionalized, the institution assumes a life of its own and abuses the idea I mentioned above to cement its power and increase it. In other words, I think the problem was never Christianity, but the roman catholic church, and the ties made between church and the roman state.
    See the difference between an institutionalized, indoctrinating religion like Christianity – and a decentralized religion that challenges each person to their own enlightenment, like Buddhism. Who would you rather give nuclear weapons to – the Dalai Lama or the Pope?
    So yes, people have a choice, and religion is only an excuse. But its a very good excuse, that’s been structured specifically to be an excuse.

  9. freidenker85 Said:

    True enough, but it’s important to note the significant distinction that lies between an evil religious law, and simply the independent tendency of certain people to do evil. When a religious law is evil, it will inspire every member of a given faith, even people who were born to it, to follow it. You would have otherwise good and mild-mannered people adding to the mobs who stone homosexuals, adulterers and witches. Such evil is beyond the inclination of evil and opportunistic human beings for being wicked. This is what I call “an evil law”, because it’s a disgrace to humanity, it inspires, even inculcates, disgusting behavior in otherwise good human beings.

    The only difference between institutionalized religion and decentralized religion is of degree. Evil laws still inspire good men and women to do evil as a part of their desire to fulfill the divine will. Centralized religion allows this supposed will to be further indoctrinated and enforced, but this does not mean that the seeds of wickedness weren’t in the holy writ to begin with.

    To your adding paragraph, all I can say is: allowing a violence-friendly environment is an evil deed on its own. You do not leave a loaded gun in the hands of criminals and get to be innocent. A good excuse to do violence is equivalent to arming the wicked.

  10. jeffsdeepthoughts Said:

    There’s so much interesting stuff going on here I hardly know where to begin. My responses are going to be a bit of a hodge-podge.
    Firstly, thanks for the kind words. I greatly enjoy your perspective and insight– and not just when you’re saying nice things about me. 😉

    Secondly, I think it’s important to draw a distinction between a group whose fundamental mission is evil and a group who may have some rules and laws that are evil.

    The Nazis plan was world domination by gradually wiping out anybody who wasn’t an Aryan. It’s all laid out in Mien Kampf.
    Christians or Jewish people’s plan is some variation on the theme of spending eternity with God and bringing about his kingdom to the world.
    It’d be fair to think that these people might be wrong. It’d be reasonable to ask specific questions that make the details of this overall mission more clear. But that is a huge difference.
    It’d also be reasonable to recognize that there are distatasteful, even apparently evil aspects to the scriptures elevated by Christians and Jewish people. It’s quite fair to ask people what they do with this.
    Many Christians would say, regarding many of the claims in what we call the Old Testament, that these do not apply anymore. A new arrangement is in place.
    It’s a bit like this: Many states in the U.s. have a wide variety of laws still existent on the books that range from the humerous to the despicable.
    Some of them, for example, mandate which sexual positions are legal and which are illegal. These have not been enforced in centuries.
    It’d be worthwhile to look at these laws in judging these states. But it would be highly relevant, in judging these states, to know that these laws haven’t actually been enforced for a very long time.

    Secondly, many Christ-followers would agree with everything you say about religion. I am one of them. Our belief is that the religion of Christianity isn’t a good thing. We’d agree that religions, all of them, including Christianity, are human made constructs.
    But we’d also say that engaging in a relationship with Jesus Christ is entirely different than practicing the religion of Christianity.
    Daniel TNG made some claims about the difference between Budhism and Christianity. I find that there are lots of people who believe that Budhism is this individualistic, non-centralized practice, live-and-let-live practice, and they think that following Jesus means you have to submit to some idiotic beuaracracy run by Republicans with mediocre educations from bible colleges.

    Budhism, like Christianity, is a huge, monolithic, sprawling idealogy, A lot of people are isolated from the groups of organized and practicing Budhists.
    The great irony is that many forms of Budhism look much more like traditional Christianity than any other major world religion, atleast from the outside.
    Huge numbers of practicing meet on Sunday mornings to sings songs about Budha’s transcendence and then hear a message delivered about the importance of applying Buddhism to their every day lives. Collection buckets are passed, gatherings are arranged after service. I’m not denying the huge doctrinal differences. I am saying that if you turned the sound off, you could easily not know whether you were watching a Christian or Budhist worship service.

    Furthermore, many strict Budhists engage in practices which would give many people the willies. For example, they venerate living leaders in a way which can appear cultish. Big, blown up pictures in a corner of their home; kneeling or bowing or not speaking in their presence, etc.

    I’m not claiming Buddhism is cultish. I am saying that Christianity is an easy target. We set up this double standard and think that a guy whose read a couple books by Tich Nhat Hanh counts as a “real” buddhist even if he’s never met another practicing Buddhist in his whole life. On the other hand, to count as a “real” Christian, you have to go to church every Sunday. And then we engage in the circular logic of saying that Christianity is inherently more institutional than Buddhism.

    Going back to what Jesus said and did demonstrates that he was radically against institions which get between us and God. He literally fashioned a whip and chased the profiteers out of God’s house. He was so contemptuous of the prevailing religious establishment that they sought out the occupying political power to execute him.

    I don’t deny that the religion of Christianity hasn’t set up beauracracy. I do believe that Jesus is as disgusted with this as he was the pharisees at his time.

  11. freidenker85 Said:

    Hi Jeff, thank you, your comment is fascinating!

    First of all, that Jesus was anti-bureaucracy is well-exhibited in his Pharisee relations, I’ve studied about them in history class, those were basically the “Luddites” or “dissidents” of their times. I got the impression that they were mostly boisterous anarchists, but it seems Jesus Christ wasn’t one. For starters, he had a well-organized “school”.

    Anyway, first of all, I do not deny that laws that hasn’t been revoked and still exist today aren’t necessarily enforced. This changes in no way the fact that these laws, as you put it succinctly, are despicable. It is an interesting observation of Dueteronomical laws that they are, in fact, outmoded and should be discarded as such. It also doesn’t change the fact that they’re wicked laws (again, as I said firmly in this post, not all of them. I think overassociation of religion with evil is wrong, too)

    Anyhow, about Buddhists, frankly, I don’t know that much about them. I know that Buddhism was used as a tool for violence and is still used as a tool for violence today. Saying it’s a “religion of peace” is a misnomer, because it’s only a religion of peace if the people practicing it are peaceful. For the “sacred Buddhists” of WWII Japan, there was nothing peaceful about it.

    As much as I admire the personalized religion you speak of (I think most Republicans today would see Jesus as a flagrant liberal!), there is only one problem with that: if it weren’t for the vast organization of the Christian church, nobody would have known about Jesus to begin with, and hence nobody would be able to practice his individualized religion. This might be easier to do today when individuals like me and you have access to everything that’s going on around the world, but in the ancient past? That’d be nigh on impossible. I’m afraid the flip side of not having Christian bureaucracy is not having Christianity at all, because it wouldn’t have survived the enormous surge of religions who, even today, sprout like fungal spores (I’m sorry, botany class’ starting to get to me).

    I should also add that Jesus as you describe it would be the first to vote for the separation for church and state (rather obvious since he’s against having a church, and if there’s no church, there’s nothing to separate from the state!)

    If you’re actually interested in following the ways of one particular scholar or prophet and his name is Jesus Christ, then you’re basically a votary of his moral worldview and a confidant of his idea for the path of happiness. That said, not only is there no quarrel between “Christ-followers” of your hue and atheists like me (who simply follow other ways to try and find happiness), but in fact, I completely condone it.

    It is important to note that the key role of this post is to say that “religious laws” is not a misappropriated term. There ARE evil religious laws, in fact, it is possible to label certain religions or religious sects (or should I say “ditto”) as evil. This has no bearing on what private individuals do with their private minds and their private lives, and this is an important distinction, because even if certain religious laws are, in fact, evil, it doesn’t say anything about any particular practicing believer, especially in the very schismatic Abrahamic religions.

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