Archive for Morals

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.

A world without religion

Where I hang out in the tubes, there’s usually a chorus exclaiming that a world without religion is a much better place. Firstly, I truly wonder if by comparing populations that are more irreligious to religious populations: you do actually get reduced crime rates – maybe the question doesn’t have to be purely hypothetical. I’ve seen myself the (apparently bogus) statistics about crime rates in America being significantly biased towards the religious.

Well, it’s nice to think that people that lack faith like me also, somehow, have stronger moral values and are more law-abiding. But I have no a priori reason to think so.

Deacon Duncan mentions these data (and points that it is impossible to conclude from the prison survey that atheists/non-religionists are being more “moral” or less “inclined to commit a crime” than any man/woman of faith)

Such surveys notwithstanding, it goes without saying that a person who doesn’t believe in Allah would probably never blow up in a bus full of Israeli children. A man who hasn’t been inoculated with the hateful and popular death cult, Christianity, would never have shot and killed a man of medicine simply for carrying out abortions. This fictional God, of any persuasion, gives you the right to destroy lives and even take them, and not only that, but this fictional homicidal maniac even encourages you to do so by tempting you with unimaginable gifts: such as sex with more beautiful women than you probably ever could have (72 virgins and infinite virgins is probably the same for a poor, undernourished, brain-washed Palestenian), and, of course, life-long, rentless stay in heaven.

So, ceteris paribus, a man who would normally be a suicide-bomber would have no reason to be, and thus would not be, a suicide bomber if he lacked the faith. Of course, in the real world, things are more complicated than that.

At the onset, I want to point out that I don’t believe that a world without religion or without religious faith is going to be Utopian or even remotely crimeless. In a way, it’s like saying that if we caught and locked up all the rapists, then the world is going to be a perfect world, murderers and thieves notwithstanding.

I do, however, think that the world would probably be a better place. I also have reasons to believe that it would be a much better place. But I think that many atheists/secularists sometimes spurn religion as the root of all evil (this is also why I didn’t like Dawkins’ title for his documentary of religion “The Root of All Evil?“, even though I did enjoy and highly endorse the documentary itself. I don’t think religion is the root of all evil).

That said, I wish to say that the root of all evil is, well, human beings. Works such as those by Daniel Dennett explain how it’s possible to conjure up rather intricate natural explanations for religion. Religion, that is, the natural phenomenon of human beings believing, or suffering from the delusion that super-men or super-women or super-beings (usually amalgams of animals, but humans tend to play this character a lot) exist, are playing an active role in their lives, etc.

The root of all evil is nested deeply in the intricacies of the human mind. Even if we give some universal definition of evil (that would probably not be agreed upon by, say, psychopaths), evil will prevail because evil is a natural consequence of being human.

So, to my opinion: Yes, a world without religion, or at least without any religious coercion, is definitely going to be, perhaps greatly, a better place. It would not, however, be a world without evil.

The caveat also confronts a much-used argument by theists who try to advocate for their favourite God character by playing out the “without God, how will you know the difference between good and evil” card. (I’ve heard Muslims, Jews AND Christians use it, and it would be insane to say that they’re all referring to the same God, one of them has a  guy called Jesus whom they worship, too)

This could also be a somewhat longer version of Dawkins’ exquisite reply to a pastor who played the very same card:

“Are you telling me that the only reason you don’t kill and rape is because God tells you so?”