What does it take to blame religion?

We’re all familiar with those people who claim that no foul deed, no murder, no injury can be laid at the feet of faith—at least in modern times.  They might grudgingly admit that the Inquisition or the Crusades may have had something to do with faith, but those were the bad old days.  Now things are different.  And while religion may seem to be involved in today’s horrors and evils, when you look deeper, they say, you’ll ultimately find the real causes.  The Protestant/Catholic fracas in Northern Ireland?  A historical squabble—religion was just a “label” for political opponents.  The persecution of Galileo?  A civil and political affair, not involving faith.  The institutionalized slaughter of the Jews during World War II? Well, the Nazis needed a scapegoat somewhere.  The murder of UN workers and Afghanis in last week’s mosque-fuelled riots?  Islam had nothing to do with it: it was simply the effect of lying, manipulative mullahs inflaming a populace who hate the colonialism of America and Europe.

Very often these “excusers” are those also those who argue for the compatibility of science and faith: those who tell critics of religion to shut up because that species of “militancy” drives people from science.  If you feel that you must coddle the faithful to achieve your goals, then you can’t be caught out saying bad things about religion.  It’s much easier to blame politics, the inherent xenophobia of humans, and the like.  People are much less offended when they’re criticized for being, say, Republicans than for being Catholics.  There are anti-defamation leagues for Jews and Catholics, but none for Democrats and Republicans.

Granted, evil actions often stem from a complicated nexus of faith and secular factors.  But I wonder about this: if people say that the root causes of evil in this world are things like xenophobia, politics, colonialism, and the like, why wouldn’t you place faith among them?  After all, to many people faith is far more personal, far more important, than politics.  Many Catholics go to church weekly; many Muslims pray five times a day and read only the Qur’an.  Many people say that their faith is the most important thing in their lives.  And, as I said, people consider it far more insulting to criticize their faith than their politics.  Given this, why wouldn’t faith be responsible for some awful things?  Why is it alone excused from being an impetus of evil?  We all know the reason: belief in belief.

Given our inability to rewind the tape of history, and to do controlled experiments in which we can insert or remove religion like a chemical in a test tube, we’re left with the notion of “reasonable inference”.  And of course people will disagree about what inferences are reasonable, just like they disagree about what evidence for global warming is reasonable.

So I offer a tentative suggestion to identify situations in which religion is “responsible” for evils.  It’s this:

Would those acts have still been committed had there been no religion?

I’m not a philosopher, of course, and this criterion isn’t perfect.  For one thing, it doesn’t mean that religion is the only “cause.”  And there can be other factors, like politics, personality disorders, civil strife, and so on, that are “causes” in the same way: absent the factor, the acts wouldn’t occur.  My criterion is based on what I call the John Lennon Factor (“Imagine no religion”): “Would the amount of evil in the world be reduced if there were no religion?”   And let us not forget that while religion can incite people to violence and murder, the ultimate responsibility for those acts rests on the people who commit them.

Given that criterion, I lay the following “modern” evils at the feet of faith—things that wouldn’t have happened without religion.   There are, of course, many more beyond this list.

  • 9/11
  • The represssion of women according to Islamic law and custom
  • Deaths from AIDS because of Catholic importuning against birth control
  • The sexual molestation of children by Catholic priests
  • The horrible and often lifelong guilt instilled in children by Catholic priests who scare them with thoughts of hell and constant admonitions about sin
  • Ditto for Islam, which threatens apostates and doubters with eternal hellfire
  • The deaths and injuries due to Sunni/Shiite conflict: arguments about who are Mohammed’s true successors.
  • The deaths of children whose parents relied on faith healing
  • The persecution of gays on religious grounds, as occurs in both America and the Middle East
  • The pedophilic marriage customs of some Mormon sects
  • The mutilation by acid of Afghani girls who dare attend school
  • Sexual fear and loathing
  • Blanket prohibitions on abortion even when the mother is raped or her life is at stake; the persecution of single mothers in countries like Ireland
  • Opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia
  • The fleecing of the innocent by Scientology (if you consider it a religion)
  • And, of course, the opposition to science instantiated in American creationism.  Note that this is among the least harmful effects of faith. Nobody dies because they don’t learn evolution.

I’m sure that readers can add more of these; the point is that these effects are either ignored, minimized, or ascribed to other factors by those whose political strategy requires them to osculate the rump of faith.

h/t: Ophelia Benson, with whom I’ve discussed these issues over the years

238 Comments

  1. Posted April 4, 2011 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    “it was simply the effect of lying, manipulative mullahs”

    Which leads to the next question. What tool did those Mullah’s use in order to manipulate those people?

    Ah, that’ll be “religion” :)

    • MadScientist
      Posted April 5, 2011 at 12:07 am | Permalink

      Yes, but see – they were *abusing* religion, unlike those good mullahs who silently condone the behavior while occasionally saying in interviews that they do not approve. Perhaps they are possessed by the god Ianos?

  2. Darrell E
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    Osculate, huh? I must thank you for teaching me a gnu word.

    • Hamilton Jacobi
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:13 am | Permalink

      Jerry likes to say “osculate the rump of faith” every now and again, and it always leaves me in a highly disturbed mental state. Maybe it’s because for me, the “rump of faith” brings up images of the nether regions of Jerry Falwell.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:15 am | Permalink

        If I used the vernacular expression I’d be accused of being militant and uncivil!

        • gk4c4
          Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:41 am | Permalink

          The meaning of the word only becoming clearer when I found the example on :

          http://www.wordnik.com/words/osculate

          “Not on zee left side, …..
          :D

        • Matt Penfold
          Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

          You get accused of being militant and uncivil even when you do not use the vernacular expression. After all your book reviews are considered militant and uncivil, without having a “fuck” in them.

        • Filippo
          Posted April 4, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

          Kinda like Churchill trying to avoid saying that an opponent was lying; rather, he was guilty of “terminological inexactitude.”

          • HenkM
            Posted April 5, 2011 at 5:35 am | Permalink

            You mean the same Churchill who didnt mind, that much, to have his own cities getting bombed, for it would really rile the citizens and all of them ready to join the forces.
            You mean the same Churchill
            who, as a young war-correspondent, saw the Spanish concentration camps on Cuba, liked the idea, and proposed to have them in South Africa (The Boer Wars).
            Needless to say that those camps were not, exactly, Hi-de-hi camps.

  3. Simon
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    For consideration as additions to the list above:

    Christian Scientist (or JW) parents who refused medical interventions that might have saved their children. (I can only imagine the primary influence on that decision was their religion.)

    • Kevin
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:05 am | Permalink

      Not just those sects…there are many instances of fundamentalist Xtian parents who prayed their children to death.

      • Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink

        And plenty of religiously liberal sects who choose homeopathy over medicine.

        • Posted April 4, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

          Negligent homicide is negligent homicide. Homeopaths and faith healers who deny their children medical care deserve life behind bars.

  4. Matt G
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    Who was it who said “Without religion, everything is permitted?” I turn this on it’s head – everything is permitted if you can convince yourself that what you are doing is God’s will. An immoral act is thereby made “moral” because you appeal to a higher morality. Did not Martin Luther himself say that the killing of Jews was justified?

    • Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:31 am | Permalink

      Wasn’t that Dostoevsky?

      And yes, Luther did write a lot bile along those lines, calling Jews “thieves and robbers” and urging them to be heavily persecuted. That’s one reason that it’s so ironic [Godwin warning] when people accuse “atheism” for the Holocaust, when its foundations were laid long before in Christian literature.

      Check out some extracts here: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/Luther_on_Jews.html

      • HenkM
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:06 am | Permalink

        It was not Luther who instigated persecution of Jews. He, Luther, based his (now protestant) bible on the original Jewish one. So, it plainly doesnt make sense for him to blame Jews.
        This persecution was brought about as a (political)gesture towards Romans (as they held the prime jurisdiction in conquered areas)and it worked, for they succumbed to christianity. The persecution was made public by the Elvira-synod (early 4th century).

        • Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

          It is a common misconception that Christianity cannot possibly be anti-Semitic because Jesus himself was Jewish and the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. Indeed, Christianity to its very core is virulently anti-Semitic and inescapably so.

          (Yes, many Christians have grown out of the anti-Semitism of Christianity, the same way they’ve outgrown the Millennialism of Christianity as well. There are also Christians who reject both the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection — and, for that matter, Buddhists who eat meat, Jews who eat bacon cheeseburgers on the Sabbath, and on and on and on. The point here is the foundation and early history, not modern reinterpretations.)

          Sorry. Where was I?

          Ah, yes — the anti-Semitism of Christianity.

          I believe the best analogy to be found is the very clear-cut one of Orpheus, Jesus’s syncretic twin brother.

          Everybody today knows Orpheus as a Greek hero, the greatest musician poet of all history. Despondent at the untimely death of his beloved Euridyce, he journeyed to the underworld where he won the right to bring her back…so long as he had faith and didn’t look to see if she was following him. Of course, he looked back, lost her, and later lost his own head to an angry mob’s knives. Said head was still singing as it was thrown into the river; it made its way to the Elysian Fields, where those who live a life of purity in Orpheus’s model will one day hear his song for themselves.

          What’s less commonly known, but far from obscure, is that Orpheus himself was Thracian, but that the story is also virulently anti-Thracian. The whole story is set in Thrace. The angry mob who descended upon Orpheus to chop off his head without a trial for the crime of having the temerity to be who he was — that mob was purely Thracian. Thracians in reality, of course, were quite proud of their justice system and never would have behaved in such a way (or, at least, not more than people in any other civilization). When one understands that Orpheus was simply acting out his role as a stand-in for Dionysus and the story was Greek propaganda demonstrating the evilness of the Thracians in rejecting the Greek gods, it all makes a great deal more sense.

          The Jesus story is exactly the same. Jesus is again a stand-in for Dionysus; there’s the same mockery of a trial, the descent into hell where Jesus conquers death and returns triumphant to offer redemption to all who believe in him. Jesus even turns water into wine, Dionysus’s own calling card. And the Jews are the patsies this time, instead of the Thracians. Let’s not forget that the Gospels are all written in scholarly Greek by well-educated Greeks addressing a Greek audience (“Theophilus”) espousing Greek philosophy (the “Logos”) using Greek heroic archetypes that Greek parents had told to their Greek children around Greek hearths for countless generations of Greeks.

          Now, if you can stomach it, take a moment to re-read Mein Kampf. Hitler references scripture extensively to justify his intended outrages…and the thing is, to the chagrin of most Christians, he doesn’t distort the passages, he doesn’t quote things out of context, or commit any of the other sins one might expect. Hitler’s attacks on the Jews really were perfectly Biblically justified.

          Sure, there’re other passages in the Bible that contradict those Hitler relied upon…but they’re in the minority; Hitler had the weight of evidence on his side. Besides, it’s not like one should expect the Bible to be in perfect harmony with itself; Matthew and Mark couldn’t even agree on who Joseph’s father was, after all.

          The problem isn’t with people distorting the Bible to justify their own hatreds. The problem is with people reading the plain language of the Bible and thinking it has some actual bearing on reality — and then acting on that faith.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • David
            Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:57 am | Permalink

            I learn such wonderful things reading these forums.

            Thank you.

          • HenkM
            Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink

            Well … you reminded me of one item missing from the list above, lol: The Arians. They didnt believe in the Trinity-doctrine and they didnt believe in any virginal-birth. They paid dearly for such thoughts. See the Niceae-synod (324 , or thereabouts). The “church” had no problem at all killing and torturing their own.

            Still: you missed my point above. The Jews were made culprits in order to save Romans from the blame. Which well suited the original manipulators.

            • Tulse
              Posted April 4, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

              The “church” had no problem at all killing and torturing their own.

              Don’t be silly — those Arians weren’t “their own”. (Religion is better than standard tribalism, because you can just make up new groups at will.)

              • HenkM
                Posted April 5, 2011 at 5:44 am | Permalink

                You mean: being invited as christians to a christian synod is not being ‘one of your own’?
                Up to that synod they were ‘of their own’. Only from then on did they become poison/sabre/pyre fodder. Except for (most of )the nobility, of course.
                In about 350 years the Arian-problem was deemed to be solved. Only, it wasnt. A mere 70 years ago someone, an Austrian painter/corporal used it as a means for justification of what was done.

          • mlm
            Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

            Can I mind-meld with you someday?

            • HenkM
              Posted April 7, 2011 at 6:08 am | Permalink

              To whom is that addressed, and what do you mean?

          • Jeff
            Posted April 5, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

            That was…certainly very interesting to read, Ben. Is that sort of a pet idea of yours, or are you aware of any books of any note that also make this claim?

            I’d be incredibly interested to read more about this, if you know of any sources.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted April 5, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

          If you read Luther’s works, he most definitely did instigate it.

    • JBlilie
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      It’s an extrapolation from Dostoevsky:

      It is true that “If God does not exist, everything is permitted” is an accurate capsule description of the belief espoused by Ivan Karamazov in the early chapters of The Brothers Karamazov. Ivan has concluded, or pretends to conclude, that there is no God, no immortality. As what he claims is a logical consequence, “everything is lawful.” However, Ivan never speaks the sentence in question, and neither does any other character in the novel! The phrase, “everything is lawful,” is used frequently by other characters as an idea that they got from Ivan. And once, Ivan says “If there is no immortality, there is no virtue.” But the magic soundbite sentence is not to be found.

      Katharena Eiermann, a true scholar, uses the sentence properly in her essay on Existentialism and Dostoevsky, where she writes,

      Jean Paul Sartre has said that all of French Existentialism is to be found in Ivan Karamazov’s contention that if there is no God, everything is permitted.

      Source

      • Matt G
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        JBlilie- Thanks for correcting my misquote.

    • Filippo
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      In a book about Luther (in storage, doggone it!) he is quoted about women and childbirth to the effect, “Let them die of it; that is what they are for!”

  5. Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    The evil acts committed in the name of religion are not just because of a conglomeration of factors of which religion is foremost. The blame goes much deeper into the nature of humanity itself. We are corrupt on the inside and seek to use religion for our own agenda. There is no “ism” that is exempt from human abuse, including atheism.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:49 am | Permalink

      If you want to argue that our species is given to tribalism and that religions provide a basis for reinforcing that, you’d have something to build on. Your view sounds like a derivative of the original sin business.

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:03 am | Permalink

      Bullshit. Your own homophobia and bigotry, for example, is motivated by religion, Dan the troll. If religion can never be blamed for the bad things, then it can’t take credit for good things either.

      • Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink

        I think religions should be held accountable and scrutinized for the actions committed in their names. Just as ideas are competitive, so the various religions should be competitive. The questions that need to be asked are, “Are the actions committed in the this particular religion’s name found inherently in its main doctrines?”, “Do these violent and abusive actions flow naturally out of this particular religion?”, “Are the majority of this religion’s followers sympathetic to those who carry out these actions?”, and, “Do these actions have no just cause?”

        These are certainly not the only questions that should be asked, but if these questions are answered with a “yes”, then humanity should consider diminishing this particular religion’s status of respect worldwide, even adopting a general consensus of disapproval.

        • Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:48 am | Permalink

          We do ask those questions, Daniel. That’s why we’re upset with religion. They are, far and away, most often answerable with a “yes.”

          This is what Dawkins is pointing out when he asks Muslim co-panelists or debate opponents: “What is the penalty for apostasy?”

        • Insightful Ape
          Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink

          Riiight. So if a certain denomination of Christianity consistently opposes evolutionary science because it considers it contrary to the bible, and harasses a certain group of people literally to suicide (gays),then “the whole humanity” is justified in opposing it. Correct?
          I’m glad we see eye to eye.

          • Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:20 am | Permalink

            To disrespect a particular religion just because it opposes something is bigotry.

            I do not take a positive attitude toward harassment.

            • Insightful Ape
              Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

              I see. So, for example, it is “bigotry” to disrespect the Taliban because they are oppsed to girls going to school.
              Right?
              And speaking of harassment, I am glad you are against it. So now we can join forces helping gay school children harassed by religious zealots.

              • Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

                Yes, I would join you in helping homosexual people who have just as much a right to live their life as you and I do. I may disagree with their actions on moral grounds, but that does not give me the right to treat them differently.

                I think it’s perfectly reasonable for a society to disapprove of certain actions on moral grounds, but also treat the offenders with equal value and worth.

              • Josh Slocum
                Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:48 am | Permalink

                I may disagree with their actions on moral grounds, but that does not give me the right to treat them differently.

                There’s nothing moral about your “disapproval” of the “actions” of gay people. It’s ignorant, dogmatic bullshit with no basis in reason or morality. You don’t even realize it, but you’ve dehumanized queer people at their very core, you denigrate who they are and try to excuse it with weak appeals to “morality.”

                Shove it. We don’t need or want your approval or disapproval.

              • Insightful Ape
                Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

                That is rubbish, Dan, and you know it better than anyone. The Taliban also oppose girls going to school “on moral grounds”. And the harassment that the gay people face comes exactly from people like you, demanding that homosexuality should be “treated like epilepsy”.

              • Josh Slocum
                Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:53 am | Permalink

                but also treat the offenders with equal value and worth.

                How dare you? Gay people are not “offenders.”

              • Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

                To the extent that a society largely disapprove of their actions on moral grounds, they are offenders.

                Society largely disapproves of pedophilia, and those who do so are offenders.

                The same can be said of any action that falls outside of society’s moral approval.

              • Insightful Ape
                Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:02 am | Permalink

                Dan, there is something rather obvious that you are not getting.
                The “moral” beliefs have consequences. You may oppose homosexuality on “moral” grounds. (Which simply means religious, has nothing whatsoever to do with morality). But your ideas have consequences, just like the Taliban’s “morality” of keeping girls out of school has consequences. I am not a bigot for disrespecting a religion that harms others.
                Demanding respect is how religion has always silenced its opponents. But it is a baseless demand because it hasn’t earned any.

              • Matt Penfold
                Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:02 am | Permalink

                Daniel,

                You are a disgusting sack of shit, comparing the sexual abuse of a child by an adult with sex between two consenting adults.

                If you cannot see that there is a difference between the two then I pity you.

                And tell us, what kind of pervert are you, being so concerned what happens in private between two consenting adults ? What business is it of yours ? Why does it concern you so much ? Your concern is rather worrying and unhealthy. It does not indicate someone who has a healthy attitude towards sex.

              • Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

                Matt,

                I’m not comparing the pedophilia and homosexuality. I’m giving examples of a principle: That whenever a society holds to a shared group morality, those who operate outside of approved actions distance themselves from society and become offenders.

                However, that still is not grounds to treat them as if they have less value and worth. Those who treat them differently are products of a corrupt reasoning system that equates the actions of the individual with his value.

              • Matt Penfold
                Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:16 am | Permalink

                Consenting acts between adults is not the business of society.

                In what respect can sex between two people of the same sex ever be considered a moral issue so long as both are willing participants ?

                In short, why do you think it has anything to do with you ?

                So sorry, you were comparing homosexuality with pedophilia. One is a moral issue, since it involves harm being done to a child whereas the other is not a moral issue at all.

              • Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:36 am | Permalink

                Daniel,

                To what society do you refer, that is so unequivocally anti-gay? Certainly there are a lot of people out there who think homosexuality is wrong, and they are making life truly difficult for homosexuals. But society at large? I think you need to get out of rural America and see the tolerant sights.

                To everyone else: I know there’s a long way to go in creating a fully tolerant society, I just didn’t like Daniel trying to claim he’s got “SOCIETY” on his side. I’m not on his side, and I’m a member of society.

            • Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:43 am | Permalink

              To disrespect a particular religion just because it opposes something is bigotry.

              Bullshit.

              Islam opposes apostasy, the renouncement of faith by those who had previously accepted it. The penalty for apostasy is death.

              I vehemently disrespect Islam for its opposition to apostasy. My disrespect for Islam’s opposition to apostasy is not bigotry.

              Your own religion is apparently opposed to logic and objective evaluation of evidence. I have no respect for your willful ignorance and insanity.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink

                “The penalty for apostasy is death. I vehemently disrespect Islam for its opposition to apostasy.”

                Then you are not a bigot, because you oppose them on moral grounds. Here, there is justification to disrespect a particular tenant of Islam, but not the entire belief system just yet. Do do that you would have to show something morally wrong with the core of its essential beliefs. Cutting off a limb is effective. Striking the heart is deadly, and up to this point you have not done so.

              • Josh Slocum
                Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

                Then you are not a bigot, because you oppose them on moral grounds. Here, there is justification to disrespect a particular tenant of Islam

                Tenet. The word is tenet.

                I vehemently disrespect and oppose Christian sects that treat gays as inferiors, defective, and undeserving of equal rights. That does not make me a bigot, it makes me someone appalled by bigotry.

                Perhaps the most offensive thing you Christians have done in the past few years is co-opting the term from people who suffer from your actual bigotry. It’s an obscenity.

              • Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

                *Tenet* Thanks

              • Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

                Here, there is justification to disrespect a particular tenant of Islam, but not the entire belief system just yet.

                Let me take another stab at it, then.

                I have a very deeply-held and profound disrespect for the very notion of a “belief system.”

                Ultimately nothing should ever be accepted “as a matter of faith.” All positions should be tentative at least in principle, with degrees of certainty assigned based upon the current evidential state of the art evaluated by sound reasoning.

                And even that must be a tentative position, should something even more effective ever be discovered.

                But “belief” and “faith”? No. Not hardly.

                A person with faith is one who makes conclusions about that which he has concluded is inconclusive, has knowledge about that which she knows is unknowable. Faith is not “willful ignorance,” but rather “willful insanity” or “willful idiocy.” Faith is a thing deserving not praise and respect, but pity and scorn.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink

                Daniel,

                Ben, or Josh, or whoever will keep giving you examples of odious religious dogma, and you’ll keep saying: “Oh well, that’s just a limb. Show me how the entire structure, or the core of the edifice is vile.”

                Do you see the problem with your argument?

            • Rob
              Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink

              Rejecting a religion because it opposes reality is not bigotry, it is sanity.

            • Josh Slocum
              Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink

              JS, you’re quite right. Daniel is part of a dwindling group who still think of sexuality as a moral issue. The tide is turning, and his kind is becoming an embarrassing relic. You’re losing Daniel – more and more young people aren’t buying your bullshit, and as older generations die off, your bigotry won’t be remembered fondly as “quaint.”

              • whyevolutionistrue
                Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink

                Indeed! I’d say “thank God for THAT,” but somehow it sounds inappropriate.

            • Filippo
              Posted April 4, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

              What if the religion opposes the opposing of female genital mutilation?

    • Kevin
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:17 am | Permalink

      And so you’re saying that religion is just another “ism”?

      If so, then you’re acknowledging that it has no supernatural force behind it.

      WHY should religion be prone to human abuse? Why shouldn’t religion, of all things, not be in accord with the perfect attributes of the perfect creator of everything?

      What separates the faithful from the not-faithful, then?

      You’re saying, in essence, that because religion is prone to human abuse, that it is just another human institution. God is meaningless and completely impotent to enforce its will.

      Nice job.

    • Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:18 am | Permalink

      We are corrupt on the inside and seek to use religion for our own agenda.

      Thank you for providing a concrete example of Jerry’s fifth point:

      The horrible and often lifelong guilt instilled in children by Catholic priests who scare them with thoughts of hell and constant admonitions about sin

      You do know that the whole Adam & Eve story, complete with “original sin,” is 100% bullshit, no? That, outside of faery tales, there’s no such thing as enchanted gardens with talking animals and angry giants, right?

      Yes?

      You may well be rotten to the core, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of us are.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:30 am | Permalink

      Hitchens often takes issue with this “in the name of” business. Killing infidels is a direct commandment by God in the Bible and the Koran, and wicked commandments are often revealed as being from God through the top religious leaders. One needn’t claim they are doing something wicked in the name of a religion when that religion commands it from on high.

  6. pete
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    >>Nobody dies because they don’t learn evolution.

    Good job some did though, eh?

  7. Helen
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    “The represssion of women according to Islamic law and custom “: The repression of women is rather general, pre-islamic as well.

    • HenkM
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      Remember that Judaism, Islam and Christianity share the same (Old) Testament. They were scared shitless of pigs (living in mud – that there s a reason for such, they dont care), or women with their monthly period (that there s a (very sound) reason for such, they were too ignorant to even care to understand): so both were blacklisted.
      In all fairness: with all those religions one (men) could have more than one (wife, concubine)or pig.

  8. Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    There is an article in a recent (current?) issue of Skeptic magazine that approached this topic, with the question of “correlation or causation?” – I ended up reviewing it on my blog, to have the author come by and clarify several points at length (made me think I’d hit the big time!)

    I think that there are legitimate questions to be asked, and careful consideration of deeper motives is important, rather than the quick acceptance of surface appearances. But when religion is both poorly defined and pervasive throughout cultures, it becomes difficult to pin down what effect it can have.

    That said, I’m largely on the side of Dr Coyne. While others may want to treat it like a judicial matter, “innocent until proven guilty,” I also see the scientific approach as having some merit, in that religion claims ultimate authority as well as promoting violence in several aspects – correlation is indeed from causation at times. If alternate correlations/causes cannot be established, religiously inspired violence remains a working hypothesis.

  9. Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    I think the cause would be strengthened by using the term ‘suffering’ in place of the term ‘evil’… as in The Problem of Suffering.

    It is much more difficult to deny additional human suffering through the practice of certain faith-based beliefs when human suffering is accessible in many ways to the brute and undeniable power of empiricism.

    This is not true for ‘evil’ – a nebulous term that can be successfully used as a linguistic shield to deflect otherwise legitimate criticism from the effects of faith-based beliefs in action.

  10. Egbert
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Religion not only blocks the rational thinking part of the brain from functioning properly, it also seems to block the normal function of empathy.

    I think both are required for a functional sense of morality.

    But the problem is not confined to religion. Highly educated atheists can also suffer from a block in rational thinking and a block in empathy, and such people are just as dangerous and irresponsible as bloodthirsty cleric.

    I really feel that it is urgent among atheists to begin some kind of science of morality, so as to bring about a theoretical consensus. Without consensus, atheists are relying on their various moral opinions, from the absurdity of Hoffmann to the inspiring but flawed PZ Myers.

    I think a moral consensus would help us deal with difficult dilemmas and what political actions are necessary.

    • Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      Without consensus, atheists are relying on their various moral opinions, from the absurdity of Hoffmann to the inspiring but flawed PZ Myers.

      A catherder, are you? And you’re trying to herd Felis moralis, too.

      Well, good luck with that. You’ll need it.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Egbert
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

        I think most atheists have a consensus over evolution and mainstream science. Of course, there are the few crackpot atheists out there, like for example, the ones that think Terry Jones should be arrested for murder.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Atheist morality can be summarized thusly.

      “Enjoy your life as much as possible. Seek pleasure and avoid unwanted pain. In the process, try not to hurt yourself or others.”

      Everything else is commentary.

      Why do people think it has to be difficult? Requiring volumes and volumes of text and agonizingly minute study over the meaning of the word “try”?

      It’s simple. Really really simple. If you think otherwise, you’re falling down theism’s rabbit hole.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted April 5, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      If only some philosophers had been working on just such a consensus for a few thousand years…

  11. Paul Havlak
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    I mostly agree with you here, but would rather specifically single out dogma or monotheism. Because religion of some sort does seem to be part of the human condition, like jealousy, bigotry, fantasy, and hope; and some religions are worse than others.

    Unfortunately, the worst religions seem to be the most robust parasitic memes: they indoctrinate the young most tenaciously and silence or kill their competition.

    My competing question: what would the world be like if no religion were allowed to claim privileged status; if apostates, heretics or nonbelievers need not fear persecution; if our societies’ ongoing moral conversation weren’t repeatedly contaminated by claims to supernatural authority; and if said fraudulent authority weren’t so conveniently twisted to immoral and self-serving ends.

    In short, what if there were no religious privilege?

    • Cents
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Natural selection when it cones to religion certainly seems applicable to me. In regions where fundamentalist religious groups live the requirement is to convert or be ostracized or die. It is a very convincing force. The other aspect and the one that is Christianity’s only hope is regions with significant population growth. Africa and South America). India is booming population wise and that’s going to add a lot of Hindus. My concern is that in the first world people are having fewer children and that will have a negative effect on the growth of atheism. Not sure what can be done to counter these two dynamics. Any thoughts?

      • Circe
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        India’s “just out” census results indicate a fall in the population growth rate. Also, contrary to popular perception India is _not_ all Hindus. It is the country with the _second_ largest Muslim population in the world: and that is a close second only to Indonesia.

        • Circe
          Posted April 4, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

          Also, the fertility rates in India is higher for Muslims, Sikhs and Christians than for Hindus.

          • Circe
            Posted April 4, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

            Sorry, that was a bit accurate: I was talking of growth rates and the statement should have been “Population growth rates in India are higher for Muslims and Christians than for Hindus”. This table http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_India#Religious_demographics suggests Sikhs actually have the _lowest_ growth rates, and the highest growth rate is in people responding to _Others_.

  12. Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    “Nobody dies because they don’t learn evolution”

    Careless use of antibiotics and evolution of resistance?

    • Miles McCullough
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:23 am | Permalink

      People who are persuaded that evolution and science in general are useless are less likely to become scientists and contribute to the general body of knowledge. There is one less person who might become the next Norman Borlaug and invent something that saves lives.

      There is one less person who will support funding for science (look at the Republican budget, it’s a disgrace).

      People most certainly die from not learning evolution and science in general. In fact it might be the most deadly aspect of religion all told; it is just less direct of a causal pathway and so it is overlooked.

  13. El Bastardo
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    “the persecution of single mothers in countries like Ireland”

    I assume you mean historically as single mothers aren’t persecuted nowadays, not by a long shot. If anything, the assistance from the state is more a target of peoples chagrin then the fact they are unwed.

  14. NickMatzke
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Hmm, first post didn’t go through because of a link.

  15. NickMatzke
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Trying again…

    This form of argumentation is incredibly weak. The exact same reasoning can be turned around:

    If there was no atheism, then there would have been no communism, therefore none of the immense crimes of communism. Therefore we can blame atheism for Stalin!

    The reasoning sucks in either direction, whether aimed at religious people or nonreligious people.

    Focus on the real problem: lack of respect for human rights in certain places and times, which is typically a product of nondemocratic governments/societies.

    • HenkM
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      Even though in conclusion you re correct, communism is not a result of atheism.
      It is a reply to the never ending greed and powerhungry people who had too much of everything already and just couldnt stop squeezing blood from a stone. Included there, of course, church leader(ship). Hence the abjection of religion. In theory.
      In many such poor countries (Russia, Cuba, Poland) religion never left the community. With the exception of Jews, who were haunted there without remorse (am not sure how this worked in Cuba, though) but still managed to grow in each of them.
      In short:
      communism is not a result of atheism.

    • Miles McCullough
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      Communist philosophy spreads due to the recognition that the owners of capital often act against the interests of the workers (the vast majority of people). Communism has nothing in common with atheism other than requiring people to see beyond the veil of lies that is commonly accepted wisdom – at least in societies where communism is frowned upon or where churches and capitalists are united.

      Point is there is no causal connection; the only reason the correlation exists is the hidden variable that intellectuals are more likely to be both communists and atheists.

    • Sigmund
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      “If there was no atheism then there would have been no communism”
      What’s this, Fox News level arguments?
      Atheism does not equal communism.

    • Miles McCullough
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      In comparing atheism => communism and religion => various ills, the problem is that while atheism and communism have a correlation, if you took the former away there wouldn’t be any impact on the latter.

      And not to beat on you too much, Nick, but communism is an outgrowth of a much greater respect for human rights than capitalism.

    • Sigmund
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:46 am | Permalink

      “Focus on the real problem: lack of respect for human rights in certain places and times, which is typically a product of nondemocratic governments/societies.”
      Democratic accountability results in the current discriminatory marriage laws in the US and many other countries. They may not show respect for human rights but they are the result of democratic voting.
      Why is there a discrepancy between human rights and democracy?
      Why are gays discriminated against? Why are women denied family planning choice?
      If your church tells you that it is not a human right but actually morally wrong to be gay or to have an abortion if you are raped then how should you behave?
      By what criteria do you discard your church teachings and decide what human rights you should support?

    • Kevin
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:46 am | Permalink

      Except that atheism wasn’t the founding precept of communism. It was a side argument – an acknowledgement of the Enlightenment notion (correct as it turns out) that superstitious beliefs are an impediment to the ability of humans to fully participate in society and understand the world around them.

      Sorry, but no, you can’t just turn that around.

      Fallacy of false equivalence, I’m afraid. Atheism is not just the obverse of theism.

      And, of course, Stalinism was nothing like the communism envisioned by Marx and Engles. It was just another authoritarian regime. Marx and Engles envisioned that the people would hold ALL the power — under Stalin, the people held NONE of the power. Different, I think.

      Motivation, I think, is an issue that you ignore. One can be motivated by religion to perform whatever acts religious leaders tell you to. Atheism mainly motivates people to argue about it in online fora.

      What abhorrent act can you point to that was committed in the name of atheism, for which the lack of belief in any god was the primary reason for that act? There are a few in history, but frankly, I’d have to do a pretty deep search to remind myself of what they are. … and life calls.

    • Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      Nick: “If there was no atheism, then there would have been no communism,”

      Acts 2:44-45: And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
      And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

      Damn early Christian atheists!

      • BradW
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

        Right on!

        Jebus’ organization(camp followrs)was one of the first recorded instances of “communism” in the truest definition of the term.

    • Nathan H.
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      First off, what Stalin implemented was *not* Communism. It was actually Authoritarianism. Authoritarianism and Communism (as Marx envisioned it) are almost complete opposites, and yet US-Americans have somehow managed to confuse the two.

      If you want to see *real* Communism in action, check out Israeli Kibbutzes, or read about the Hippie Communes of the late 60’s, or learn about *small* tribes.

      Second off, the only reason Communism and Atheism are tied together is because Marx was an atheist. Had he been a Jew (as was his birth heritage), I would not be surprised if he attempting to tie in Judaism with Communism (as they do in Kibbutzes, in fact).

      Stalin identified as an atheist, but only because he wanted to be God. He wanted people to worship him. His atheism, if that is indeed what it can be called, was not a result of sound reasoning. It was the result of a deity-complex. I think it is more accurate to say that Stalin was a misotheist.

      I cannot speak for most atheists, of course, but I can speak for myself and say that I have no such deity-complex. I absolutely do *not* want to be worshiped by *anyone*. I am an atheist merely because I see no reason to believe. And again, I do not speak for any atheist other than myself, but I would not be surprised to see some atheists agree.

      • ckitching
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

        Authoritarianism and Communism (as Marx envisioned it) are almost complete opposites, and yet US-Americans have somehow managed to confuse the two.

        It’s very easy. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” In very much the same way, Chistianity is very much authoritarian, especially in its more historical versions. God is the shepherd of his people, the lambs. A pastor watches over (and fleeces) his flock. In all cases, the authority figure, ultimately culminating at God, has the answers to all questions, and to doubt this is to be cast out as a heretic and “unsaved”.

        Not surprisingly, when you know you have the Truth(TM), it becomes easier to dismiss the lives of those who cast aside your Truth(TM).

      • Posted April 7, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

        Early Christians and Hippie Communes have nothing to see with communism. Communism is not about putting wealth in common.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted April 7, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink

          It’s supposed to be. Read Marx.

        • Nathan H.
          Posted April 7, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

          I suggest you read Marx’s original work.

          “Communism is not about putting wealth in common.”

          That is *exactly* what Marx intended when he wrote about Communism.

        • Nathan H.
          Posted April 7, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

          Also… what do early Christians have to do with any of this? Kibbutzes are usually *Jewish* places of dwelling, *not* Christian (of course, there could be Christian or even Muslim Kibbutzes, but I’ve personally never heard of any).

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Focus on the real problem: lack of respect for human rights in certain places and times, which is typically a product of nondemocratic governments/societies.

      has is escaped your attention that religions tend to be patriarchal in nature, and profoundly undemocratic. The Abrahamic religions demand obedience to a deity and a set of rules supposedly dictated by that deity (but in reality are dictated by a bunch of self-selecting patriarchs). Religions by their very nature tend to be non-democratic.

      And your comment about communism arising from atheism indicates you clearly are not thinking clearly.

    • articulett
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

      Atheism is a lack of belief in gods.

      The invisible beings people don’t believe in is not a motivator; whereas people will do almost anything if they imagine their god wants it and/or their eternity depends upon it.

      Has your lack of belief in fairies caused you to do anything uncivil? How about your disbelief in Scientology? How much action as your disbelief in gremlins resulted in?

      Fail.

      Atheism is a lack of belief– it’s not another faith. It doesn’t cause people to imagine they are engaged in an epic battle where the stakes are eternity. Atheists don’t imagine they are getting directives from the invisible creator of the universe.

      It’s your argument that is weak.

      I would say being male is more strongly associated with the the subjugation of others and oppressive regimes than a lack of belief in invisible beings. But I certainly wouldn’t blame such things on maleness, since it would make my argument almost as weak as yours.

      Also, communism does not require atheism. Some think of Jesus as a bit of communist (or socialist)… the character as depicted in the bible is certainly was not a capitalist.

      You just fail all around with this “rebuttal”.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted April 5, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      “Focus on the real problem: lack of respect for human rights in certain places and times, which is typically a product of nondemocratic governments/societies.”

      So even if the religious books and traditions of certain religious explicitly promote a lack of respect for human rights, we shouldn’t blame those religions?

      There is no written doctrine of atheism that advocates the things Stalin did. With religions, there are such doctrines. So your analogy fails.

  16. Insightful Ape
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Dr Coyne, aren’t you going to ban Dan the homophobe? I think we have had enough of the quotes from William Lane Craig.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:20 am | Permalink

      We’re going to convert him…he’s already just acknowledged that religion is no different from any other set of beliefs.

      That strongly implies that there is no supernatural underpinning to religious “faith” (aka, credulity).

      A couple more weeks here, and he’ll be a rabid Gnu, chewing the pope’s furniture.

    • Tyro
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      Why so eager to ban him? He’s posting original material and he’s reading & responding to posts. So most of us disagree with him, that’s an awful reason for a ban.

      If you can’t stand reading his posts then don’t. Always calling him a troll and trying to get him banned makes us all look like the intolerant reactionaries on UD or other faith-based blogs.

      • Insightful Ape
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        Just look at his arguments upstream. He has no goal other than to cause aggravation. Walks like a troll, quacks like a troll.

        • Tyro
          Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink

          I’m not talking to him because I don’t see the value but others are and again, I don’t see him spamming us with quotes, I don’t see him ignoring responses, I don’t see him calling people names. Despite the fact that I disagree with much of what he says, it is we who are swearing and shouting and he who seems calm and reasoning.

          If a so-called troll looks like the sane one then I think something’s wrong. I definitely do not think he’s done anything worthy of a ban and if you don’t like him, I suggest you buck up and take a walk. Act like an adult and stop throwing a tantrum just because someone disagrees with us.

          And by the way, just because you get aggravated doesn’t mean he is trying to aggravate you. You aren’t as objective as you think you are.

          • Tim Martin
            Posted April 4, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

            Also keep in mind that if no one wanted to have a conversation with him, no one would reply to his comments, and thus there would be very few comments by him.

            More problems with trolls arise because otherwise good commenters can’t stand to let something they vehemently disagree with go un-rebutted. But that is their fault, not the troll’s.

          • Pali
            Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

            “Despite the fact that I disagree with much of what he says, it is we who are swearing and shouting and he who seems calm and reasoning.”

            Having read the comments above, I can’t help but agree – Dan certainly seems more polite and collected, and has done an admirable job of ignoring personal attacks. I think he’s wrong on a lot of points, but far from badly behaved.

            • Josh Slocum
              Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

              There’s nothing “polite” about labeling gay people as offenders. And if you don’t like that, you can fuck right off.

              • Tim Martin
                Posted April 5, 2011 at 6:48 am | Permalink

                Your anger doesn’t change minds, Josh.

            • Josh Slocum
              Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

              And let me guess, you agree with Polly-O?

    • Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      I think homophobia, racism and the like are better argued down than moderated out.

      • JBlilie
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

        Yes.

      • BradW
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

        Absolutely!

  17. raven
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Not just those sects…there are many instances of fundamentalist Xtian parents who prayed their children to death.

    It is biblical anyway.

    This is just the ancient religious practice of human child sacrifice.

  18. raven
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Daniel being wrong:

    “The evil acts committed in the name of religion are not just because of a conglomeration of factors of which religion is foremost.”

    Wrong. The most peaceful societies with high standards of living are the most secular. Western Europe, New Zealand, Japan. The hells on earth are the most religious, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iran.

    Even in the USA, we see the same pattern. Fundieland, the south central US states rate highest in any social problems you care to name, teen age pregnancy, divorce, lack of education, low socioeconomic status, child poverty, and on and on. The xian fundie death cultists are a drag on our society, baggage being dragged along.

    The statistical facts show what we already can easily see, high religiosity = dysfunctional society.

    That was what the Enlightenment was all about, breaking the mental tyranny of primitive beliefs.

    Atheistic societies will never be utopias because we humans don’t build utopias. But there is better and there is worse, and a big difference between the two.

    • Rieux
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      There’s a tough correlation/causation problem with the data sets you reference, though. I agree with just about everything Jerry says in this post, but it seems to me that several of the evils of the religious places you name are sibling symptoms along with widespread religion in those places, rather than daughter effects of religion. (I did say “several,” though, and certainly not “all.”)

      Somewhat clearer, though, given that religion is part of a nasty feedback loop in many of those places (and as such is both an effect and a cause), is the happy side of the picture you’re drawing. It seems to me difficult and dubious to claim that secularism or atheism are significant causes of the high standards of living you cite in Western Europe, New Zealand, and Japan. A more parsimonious explanation of the data is that good sociological outcomes and secularism/atheism are twin effects of other causes—such as strong social safety nets and high levels of education.

      None of this calls into question the broader point that atheism clearly doesn’t lead to societal ruin. As you note, the data run overwhelmingly in the opposite direction.

      • Tyro
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

        I’m inclined to agree. I provisionally accept the argument that religiosity is a reaction to inequality and insecurity based in no small part on the USA. I don’t think that the lack of decent health care and income inequality is a result of religion but it makes sense to me that it would drive people towards religion.

        We see the same effect within a country where black americans are among the most religious but also the least well off.

        I can certainly imagine being wrong on this issue as it is complex but when the data is as murky as this, I think it’s best for us to stick to places where it’s clearer like the list that Jerry made in the OP.

        • astrosmash
          Posted April 4, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

          The real tragedy being that the religious feedback loop also causes those under its spell to act against their own self interests. Like the anti-abortionists who are also against sex education and contraception. Highly uneducated people making it worse by vilifying science…etc

    • ckitching
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

      The question, IMO, is which way does this correlation go? Do the social problems you mentioned breed religion, does religion breed the social problems or do they feed each other? I suspect that religion feeds many of these problems, but that poverty feeds religion, but I have no proof either way.

  19. raven
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    One way religion can become a malevolent force is well known.

    As Dennett pointed out. “Religion is the best vehicle ever invented for social conflict.”

    We see that everywhere, especially today in the USA.

    • astrosmash
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      Religion is essentially the repository for all in-group shibboleths.

  20. HenkM
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    I would like to reverse the main question:
    What good came from religion?
    Morals? Common sense? Standard human behaviour? All that was longer in existence before any religion came about.
    Much longer.
    Schools/education: for sure any schools were meant for brainwashing purposes:
    Heed your priest, your lord, your husband (in that order, but that s my interpretation).
    Never question the bible, any church official or your husband.

    You (WEIT) had one major omission:
    you forgot the frauds. There was a time, say first Millenium, where monks, priests, etc were (practically) the only ones who could read and write.
    I know of 2 abbeys ( at least) who committed ‘white-collared’ criminality: Echternach and Fulda, but am very sure there were countless others who made creative use of their knowledge or education. And made sure such was restricted to certain (elite)classes alone.

    Well … all in all … there isnt much, if at all, on their credit-side.

    • nichole
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      When the religious take credit for morality, and say that we would all be running around raping and murdering if it weren’t for them, I always wonder three things:
      1) Have you seen the stuff that’s goin’ down in the Middle East? Like the American platoon that just earned itself an article in Rolling Stone by murdering Afghani civilians for fun & sport. O_o
      2) Why don’t other animals that live communally do more raping and murdering? Like ants: How the *bleep* do they get along?
      3) How twisted do you have to be to not think of 1) & 2) on your own?

      • HenkM
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

        The crux here is your last sentence, and in relation to my remark above, about the schooling and brainwashing: the ‘faithfull’are taught NOT to think, but to follow. Period.

    • nichole
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      When the religious take credit for morality, and say that we would all be running around raping and murdering if it weren’t for them, I always wonder three things:
      1) Have you seen the stuff that’s goin’ down in the Middle East? Like the American platoon that just earned itself an article in Rolling Stone by murdering Afghani civilians for fun & sport. O_o
      2) Why don’t other animals that live communally do more raping and murdering? Like ants: How the *bleep* do they get along?
      3) How twisted do you have to be to not think of 1) & 2) on your own?

      -Apologies if this is double, I had a clicking finger malfunction :)

  21. dale
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    To Add to the list,

    The continual communal battles in India over the location of some Islamic or Hindu Temple.

    • Circe
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

      That dispute, which led to much politicized bloodshed, was recently settled by a High Court in India by dividing the land equally between three claimants.

  22. Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Islam threatens a good deal more than hellfire for apostasy.

  23. Mal
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Would the sexual multilation of children happen without religion?

    And can the uneccessary suffering of domesticated animals be blamed on religion to some extent? Animals, of course, are believed to be lacking souls and inferior to people and can be ritually killed for religious reasons.

    • JBlilie
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      And they do lack souls, just like us.

      They seem to me to possess varying degrees of mental function resembling consciousness. Our fellow animals should not be treated cruelly except in cases where it’s unavoidable (extremely rare, maybe non-existent). Certainly not for sport or to propitiate purported “gods” or to reduce the price by $0.10 per pound (US bias).

  24. litchik
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    But you wouldn’t claim the harassment of women on buses in Israel by the Orthodox?

    The deprivations of and human rights abuses toward Palestinians living in Israel? That can be blamed on what? All religions need to suck up their share of the blame. You need to stop playing favorites.

  25. Tyro
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Note that this is among the least harmful effects of faith. Nobody dies because they don’t learn evolution

    And yet the accomodationist crowd like the NCSE, Josh R, Scott, Mooney and others seem to argue that we should give ground on the other points (and faith in general) in order to address this weakest of all problems.

    I’m all for teaching evolution and think it’s a fascinating, valuable and even beautiful theory in its own right but people are literally dying because of faith. Let’s keep some perspective.

  26. shrike
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I beg to differ; people die when they don’t learn about evolution by natural selection, think about bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

    • Filippo
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      My imperfect experience and observation is that doctors tell them to take all of the antibiotic, that if they don’t it won’t kill all the bacteria. I doubt that the docs go into much more detail about that, especially in dealing with the patently intellectually uncurious. The intellectually non-curious patient then has to decide whether s/he trusts the doc. Some per centage of patients, feeling much better pretty quickly, and being a bit tight with money, decide to stop and keep the remainder in reserve for the next time they acquire a (self-diagnosed) bacterial (viral for all they know!) infection.

  27. Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the h/t!

    I would add a big umbrella category: the idea that hierarchy is god-given and thus mandatory. Much flows from this, obviously: gender inequality above all, since it subordinates half the population at a stroke, but also many other kinds of inequality.

    Another would be haram/halal, or in the version Plato disputed in the Euthyphro, impious/pious or unholy/holy: the idea that there are yes/no rules handed down by god and that’s all there is to it, case closed, don’t do any thinking ’round here.

    • Sven DiMilo
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      the idea that hierarchy is god-given and thus mandatory. Much flows from this, obviously: gender inequality above all, since it subordinates half the population at a stroke, but also many other kinds of inequality.

      “Flows from” implies causation. There’s an obvious chicken/egg problem with that claim.

      • Posted April 4, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        Yes – I meant the mandatory aspect. Once it becomes god’s arrangement, it becomes permanently mandatory as opposed to a human arrangement subject to revision.

    • JBlilie
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      Good point.

  28. Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Even if we allow for the sake of argument that religion isn’t the cause of wars and intolerance, at the very very least it is a convenient excuse to continue wars and intolerance. And that is a property of religion: when you think you have God on your side, it makes it so much harder to admit you were wrong.

  29. Rebecca Sparks
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Hello! Nice to meet you. I’ve been reading your blog for a while, and I wanted to make two comments about the post.

    But I wonder about this: if people say that the root causes of evil in this world are things like xenophobia, politics, colonialism, and the like, why wouldn’t you place faith among them? After all, to many people faith is far more personal, far more important, than politics.

    This hit home for me. I am probably what you would consider to be an apologist. Perhaps I should include faith among the reasons why bad things happen.

    I lay the following “modern” evils at the feet of faith—things that wouldn’t have happened without religion.

    This is where I disagree, and what really motivates me to be an ‘apologist’ in the first place. By saying that these horrible things wouldn’t have happened without religion, you are ignoring all sorts of other influences and motivations for a persons behavior. You make these people “other” than you, less reasonable than you, motivated or preyed upon purely because they are deluded.
    Religion has fostered both war and peace. Religion has

    • Josh Slocum
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      You’ll have to do better than that. That’s not an argument, that’s – well, apologetics. Weak.

      • Rebecca Sparks
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:16 am | Permalink

        You’re quick! Also, had not gotten to the main thrust of my argument at this juncture, with no way to edit my post. You might disagree with the rest of my post, but by just saying “That’s apologestics!” I have really no rebuttal than so say, “Well, that’s what I thought you would say, but you saying that does not cause me to think differently about this subject.”

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      I do not think Jerry is saying horrible things would not happen without religion. In fact I know he is not saying that.

      However the simple fact is that people tend to do horrible things to each other when they see those others as being different and thus less deserving of respect. There are many things that can motivate people to see others as being different, but religion is a important factor, and one can that lead to friction when otherwise there would be none. It creates an unnecessary element of difference between people.

      • Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

        Try this analogy on for size.

        People would still die in car crashes even if nobody ever got drunk behind the wheel ever again, and we’ll never be able to 100% eliminate drunk driving. That doesn’t mean that drunk driving is a good thing we should all respect and support.

        If you enjoy the communal ritualism or other non-harmful aspects of religion, by all means, knock yourself out. Have a few beers while you’re at it — or, at least, take a deep drink from the wine cup. Enjoy it, guilt-free, and make the most of it.

        Just be sure you sober up before you start writing legislation. And if you can’t get out of bed in the morning without your pick-me-up prayer, seek the help of a certified medical professional before the brain cirrhosis becomes terminal.

        Cheers,

        b&

      • Rebecca Sparks
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        I think really that we agree on the most important things, that many things are part of conflict, including religion. I just think we all disagree on how much religion plays in conflicts.

        <>

        He does say that evil would occur without religion.

        <>

        But he did say that list of things things in particular would not have happened without religion.

        <>

        I don’t agree that these things would not be absolutely prevented by the absence of religion. Some might not have happened, but most would happen but with a different reasoning or flavor because the other factors involved are so influential.

        I don’t agree with religious difference being an unnecessary source of contention, because I don’t see difference as inherently a source of contention and dehumanizing. However, once I have ulterior motives to dehumanize another _than_ I can point to our difference as the reason I am dehumanizing them. Hegemony is the source: religion/gender/race/ethnicity/politics is the dressing.

        • Rebecca Sparks
          Posted April 4, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

          also, sorry for my formatting issues; I think I’ve figured out which tags are excluded and which are included, and my quotes should be easier to read/not swallowed by tags.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted April 5, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

          “I don’t agree with religious difference being an unnecessary source of contention, because I don’t see difference as inherently a source of contention and dehumanizing.”

          What about religions, such as Christianity and Islam, that explicitly teach that people with different beliefs are wicked?

    • Rebecca Sparks
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      …also helped people stand up to oppression and injustice, such as those who worked on the underground railroad and marched for civil rights, or housed Jewish families during the holocaust. Religion has inspired learning, in painting, music, literature, math and science. Per Wagner the Protestant work ethic brought about capitalism. Religion has motivated many to give in charity.

      Could all of these good things have arisen without religion? Yes, yes I think that they could have and do(for those ongoing). I think both tremendous evil and good can both be generated without religion.

      When you say “these could not have happened without religion,” what I hear you say is “all the good that religion did would have existed (or its near equivalent), but none or the clearly bad things (or a near equivalent) would have happened if religion was not around.” Its like all those other causes and factors that go into making a bad situation are completely ignored.

      For instance, the position of women in Afghanistan has Islamic factors. It also has been a war-torn country for the last 40 years, which has made the country very poor. Worldwide women have the short end of the stick. (One of the reasons Americans focus so hard on poor Afghani women is to distract from our own inequality and vulnerability; US women make 19% less on average, 25% of women have be battered and 10-15% will be raped.) If I was to get a magic wand and could just wish away religion, gender inequality or poverty/war weariness in Afghanistan, I don’t think that removing religion would have the greatest effect on the conditions of the women who live there.

      I promise to include faith as one of the factors that influences the oppression of women or terrorism. But I hope that you will also include hegemony, racism, colonialism, et al. in your accounting of these acts of evil.

      /Sorry about the double post; I hit the wrong button while I was still writing.

      • Rob
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink

        Right, and simply being poor is why that women had acid thrown on her face.

      • Tyro
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        Hi Rebecca,

        You talk about civil rights and protests against intolerance and I agree that it would be a very bad thing if this were gone but was this wholly or largely driven by religion?

        I think this is a serious question for a few reasons. First is that there was a strong secular component to these protests (much of which gets buried or overshadowed by subsequent religious promotion).

        Second I really question whether religion was motivating people to better themselves. I have heard people say “I used to be a drug addict/violent person/etc until I found God” but whenever broader studies are done, religion doesn’t emerge as a help. Age and maturity seems to be one of the biggest factor in escaping the wilds of youth. So I do wonder then whether this may not be something similar. To add further weight, we can look at societies which are secular and see that far from having weaker human rights, they often will have stronger social nets and stronger support for women and oppressed minorities.

        What are your thoughts? Let’s say that I’d like to believe you, what evidence would you present to bolster your case and how would you address these apparent contradictions?

        As to the oppression of women in Afghani culture, some of the more sadistic examples would be stoning to death for violating religious rules, whipping (sometimes to death) for violating religious purity laws (eg: getting raped), beating or honour killing for disrespecting religious rules about autonomy or obedience (eg: appearing in public without a husband, talking back to husband/father, or even attempting to arrange your own marriage). All of these are explicitly religious.

        If you think that there are some non-religious oppression going on, how do you think these compare? I’ve no doubt it exists but it sounds pretty banal in comparison (“women are weak and emotional”, “women can’t do math”, etc.) and the consequences are relatively mild (lost wages, lost opportunities). Again, this isn’t to excuse them or say I agree but I think it’s pretty obvious that fighting wage discrimination is a different matter than fighting honour killings and genital mutilation.

        • Rebecca Sparks
          Posted April 4, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

          Hi Tyro,

          Let me say this first to see if it clarifies my possition before I answer your question. It seemed to me that both theist and non-theists could be do good or bad things. When theists did good or bad things, they credited their actions to God, The Way, or whatever was appropriate to their religious persuasion–good or bad. But when I looked closer, I saw that there was a host of other factors at work that made them likely to do good or ill. So, I began to ignore the religious reasons as inconsequential and focus on the more interesting and diverse reasons behind what they were saying.

          Jerry made a good point that I am ignoring what these people are saying, and I need to pay more attention to how people themselves describe what they are doing.

          You talk about civil rights and protests against intolerance and I agree that it would be a very bad thing if this were gone but was this wholly or largely driven by religion?

          …To add further weight, we can look at societies which are secular and see that far from having weaker human rights, they often will have stronger social nets and stronger support for women and oppressed minorities.

          What are your thoughts? Let’s say that I’d like to believe you, what evidence would you present to bolster your case and how would you address these apparent contradictions?

          I think we would need to take history into context before we could even begin to answer the question. Colonialism, the Cold War, neo-liberalism have all contribuited to contribuiting to cruelty, poverty and ignorance. When Western countries are not crushing a benevolant-but-anti-Western-countries goverment by funding crazy-but-pro-West-terrorists, our Aid is crushing existing social networks and replacing them with Western conventions that don’t always work as well. This last statement is as gross a generality as your secular & humane vs religious & inhumane, so I will look over some books and get back to you on this probably in the next day or two.

          As to the oppression of women in Afghani culture, some of the more sadistic examples would be stoning to death for violating religious rules, whipping (sometimes to death) for violating religious purity laws (eg: getting raped), beating or honour killing for disrespecting religious rules about autonomy or obedience (eg: appearing in public without a husband, talking back to husband/father, or even attempting to arrange your own marriage). All of these are explicitly religious.

          If you think that there are some non-religious oppression going on, how do you think these compare? I’ve no doubt it exists but it sounds pretty banal in comparison (“women are weak and emotional”, “women can’t do math”, etc.) and the consequences are relatively mild (lost wages, lost opportunities). Again, this isn’t to excuse them or say I agree but I think it’s pretty obvious that fighting wage discrimination is a different matter than fighting honour killings and genital mutilation.

          I don’t agree with your secular/religious divide on human rights-life is not as clearcut as you present it, nor are the myths that surrround women the same. (Actually, there are proportunately more women engineers in the middle east than in the US.) I will look and see if I can find something about statistics and rules for honor killing, rape, etc in Afghanistan. But I think it’s not as prevalant as you make it seem, as well as harmless as “secular” woman’s oppression.

          Thank you for responding, and I’ll see if I can’t get a more thourough responce to you later.

          • David
            Posted April 4, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

            Lets be clear, when we talk about religion we are talking about islam/christanity yes?

            Both of these have rule books which clearly state what monstrous things should be done for god. Just because some of the more modern interpretations choose to ignore the more horrible aspects of the rule books does not change the rules, and there will always be those who want to go back to the “fundamentals”.

            “But there are good and nice things in both books too!” So what? You can have the good without the bad. Peoples who have never heard of either were following the golden rule for thousands of years.

            Science did not arise because of religion it arose despite it.

            • Rebecca Sparks
              Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

              Lets be clear, when we talk about religion we are talking about islam/christanity yes?

              Are we? I didn’t know. After all, there’s a whole lot of religion out there.

              Both of these have rule books which clearly state what monstrous things should be done for god. Just because some of the more modern interpretations choose to ignore the more horrible aspects of the rule books does not change the rules, and there will always be those who want to go back to the “fundamentals”.

              I can understand the temptation to point out Leviticus 19:19 when you’re arguing with a person who believes that the Bible is the literal word of God and every word is literally true.

              However, Modern liberal interpretations of scripture and fundamental interpretations of scripture are both equally modern. Neither reflect “original” Christianity or Islam–and how could they be? The world has changed. For Islam, the Koran was an oral tradition for nearly a century before it was written down. There were more books written and used by early Jews/Christians than were included in the Tanakh or the Bible; Catholics include the Apocrypha while Protestants do not. The authors were not talking to people in 2011; they’re writing to their contemporaries.

              It really burns my cookies when buy the fundimentalist line that they are closer to some sort authentic Christianity. From an athiest standpoint, shouldn’t fundimentalism and liberal Christianity be equally wrong?

              • Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

                [i]However, Modern liberal interpretations of scripture and fundamental interpretations of scripture are both equally modern. Neither reflect “original” Christianity or Islam–and how could they be? The world has changed.[/i]

                If they were the actual revelations of an omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent deity, we would expect nothing less than absolute and unchanging religion. But they’re all made up so they mutate like anything else.

              • Posted April 5, 2011 at 6:57 am | Permalink

                From an athiest(sic) standpoint, shouldn’t fundimentalism(sic) and liberal Christianity be equally wrong?

                Yes, they are.

              • Posted April 5, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

                “From an athiest standpoint, shouldn’t fundimentalism and liberal Christianity be equally wrong?”

                “Equally wrong” would assume that everyone who practices religion thinks and interprets the same things in the same way, which I think is very unrealistic.

              • David
                Posted April 5, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

                While many if not most atheists care strongly about the truth, this is not the main reason we oppose religion. If the religious kept it all to themselves didn’t murder, rape and oppress in the name of their religion. Did not proselytize to our children or try to pass legislation making us pay for their religion. You would see almost all of us just go away. We would still be out there and many would still denounce religion, but most of us would just shrug and say “who cares?”

                I find it disingenuous to debate on the subject of religion and want to point to the minorities of the religious and say they aren’t hurting anyone. When the largest religions are doing incalculable harm to everyone on the planet.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 5, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

                “It really burns my cookies when buy the fundimentalist line that they are closer to some sort authentic Christianity. From an athiest standpoint, shouldn’t fundimentalism and liberal Christianity be equally wrong?”

                Fundamentalism IS closer to traditional Christianity than modern liberal interpretations. That’s how fundamentalism came about, as a reaction to literalism. It is not just as modern as “liberal” Christianity, it is a return to 18th Century Christianity, as a reaction to what was going on in some denominations in the 19th Century.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

                Liberal Christians might not believe that the laws in Leviticus reflects the actual will of their God, but by claiming to worship the same God, and by revering the book Leviticus is in and the tradition it comes from, they lend legitimacy to the idea that there is something special and holy about that book and that tradition. And that’s reprehensible.

          • Tyro
            Posted April 5, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink

            Rebecca,

            Jerry made a good point that I am ignoring what these people are saying, and I need to pay more attention to how people themselves describe what they are doing.

            Yes, it’s a difficult area. On the one hand, we know that people are very bad at understanding why certain things happen and they are very prone to making incorrect logical leaps. “I felt sick, I had some chicken soup, later I felt better so the chicken soup must have cured me.” We might giggle a bit at the reasoning and make jokes like “take Echinacea and your cold will be gone in 7 days, do nothing and it will be gone in a week” but it’s less clear in other areas. Many people will attribute alcohol rehabilitation and even cancer cures to their church. Do we take them at their word? People say that the only reason they are moral, give to charity, help others, avoid murder, etc is because of their religious beliefs – do we believe them? People kill or hurt others and say it’s because of their religious beliefs, do we believe them?

            How do we even go about answering these questions?

            Since we don’t have any definitive ways of testing, we can do some cross-cultural studies and ask the question “which behaviours are correlated or predicted by religious beliefs; which are not?”

            We see that religious belief is predictive of many negative behaviours (Jerry listed many), but not predictive of positive, social behaviours with a few possible exceptions (the question of which group donates most to charities is actively debated; it’s unquestionable that both groups do donate however).

            So when you point to other political explanations for some abuses, certainly I don’t want to deny that these exist however I am most interested in the question of whether the actions would have resulted in the same behaviour without the religiosity. People everywhere suffer pressures so why are the responses by religious communities so much more dangerous? (And if you think they are not, why don’t you and what’s your evidence?)

            I will look and see if I can find something about statistics and rules for honor killing, rape, etc in Afghanistan. But I think it’s not as prevalant as you make it seem, as well as harmless as “secular” woman’s oppression.

            Again, neither I nor Jerry is attempting to say that religiosity is responsible for all of the world’s problems or even the worst of them, only that it is responsible for many problems. It would be an interesting discussion to look at these other forms of bigotry but I think it’s tangential.

            • Posted April 5, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink

              “Again, neither I nor Jerry is attempting to say that religiosity is responsible for all of the world’s problems or even the worst of them, only that it is responsible for many problems.”

              I would a lot agree a lot more with this statement … if we replaced the generic “religion” with the specific things about it that we determine create problems, such as supernatural sanction for bad behavior, the doctrine of infallibility, and so on.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 5, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

                The belief in the supernatural is the specific thing about it that creates problems.

            • Rebecca Sparks
              Posted April 7, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

              Hi Tyro,

              Sorry for the delay.

              So when you point to other political explanations for some abuses, certainly I don’t want to deny that these exist however I am most interested in the question of whether the actions would have resulted in the same behavior… It would be an interesting discussion to look at these other forms of bigotry but I think it’s tangential.

              My most burning question is to how to stop abuses like these from happening again. But even if we limit ourselves to answering the hypothetical question, “Would those acts have still been committed had there been no religion?” we still need to examine all the factors that went into the act to tease out the religious influence. Life is not always clearly cut between religious and secular.

              In Afghanistan 1959 women were legally to unveil, and in 1964, women had the right to vote and enter politics. In the 60s and 70s women were part of the workforce, including being doctors, teachers, and politicians. The workforce was 50/50 male/female. However, in 1996 was nearly exclusively make and women were publicly whipped if they exposed their ankles and had fingers cut off if they put on nail polish. That is an extreme change—and change the happened in Afghanistan was not a religious revival but decades of continuous war that nurtured extreme terrorist groups.

              The Taliban are religious zealots, and what they do in the name of religion is horrendous. If there was no religion, would the Taliban come to power? We can only speculate, but since the Soviet invasion and the Allied arming of resistance groups (aka terrorists) for cold war reasons is assumedly secular. The situation was also complicated by ethnic strife. It is very possible that those two reasons alone would have been enough for a repressive regime similar in nature to come into being.

              But you suggested looking cross culturally to compare another country, so lets compare with Vietnam. Vietnam was also the place of prolonged Cold war conflict. The state is staunchly secular—originally antagonistic to religion, but now officially endorses religious freedom. The dominant religion is Buddhism, but Catholicism is not unknown. On paper, women in Viet Nam have many rights. However, the UN has cited Vietnam for women’s rights violations. Women do most of the unsafe, poorly paid labor. 80% of textile and garment work is done by women, mostly in sweatshop conditions. More alarmingly there is a huge industry of selling women, usually as prostitutes (as opposed to menial labor). There are concerns about the rate of domestic violence and the rising rate of women infected with AIDs.

              I wanted to make one more comment about how you split the religious oppression for women to your earlier post. You had honor killing and stoning as clearly religious oppression (vs secular being gender stereotypes). However, if an American husband beats his wife or daughter to death for the same cause we would probably not see it as religious in origin (sans beating her to death by a Bible). One in four women in America are abused in their lifetime; an estimated 3 mil women will be abused this year. 30% of women homicides are from intimate partner abuse, with an average of three homicides happening a day. Three in four women report that they have been raped or sexually assaulted. One in twelve women will be stalked. This gender-focused violence is a part of the “secular” oppression of women in America, as much as gender myths like emotionally weak or being bad at math.

              You said ”We see that religious belief is predictive of many negative behaviours (Jerry listed many), but not predictive of positive, social behaviours with a few possible exceptions (the question of which group donates most to charities is actively debated; it’s unquestionable that both groups do donate however).” I would really like to see your sources. It seems to be the biggest predictor of violence against women is being a woman, not your (or your abuser’s) being theist or atheist, or being part of a secular or religious state.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

      blockquote>By saying that these horrible things wouldn’t have happened without religion, you are ignoring all sorts of other influences and motivations for a persons behavior. You make these people “other” than you, less reasonable than you, motivated or preyed upon purely because they are deluded.

      Religion, by its very nature, must rest on facts and knowledge unavailable to the reason and evidence of the world. The more reasonable a religion becomes, the weaker it becomes as a religion. If it is making sense to outsiders — including the hypothetical reasonable atheist — then it is pulling the strength of its arguments from the common secular ground.

      I think that this necessary element of irrationality will, once added, make any of the other motivations (politics, economics, racism) intractable. There is no test in reality for facts derived from special revelation or spiritual intuition. If a group is deemed impure, there’s no appeal. If a land is considered holy, there’s no negotiation. Whatever was bad before, is now put beyond honest debate. It’s a matter of faith.

      And there is no way to persuade adherents of faith to change their minds. Changing their minds betrays their religion. And as the saying has it, “you cannot reason people out of what they didn’t reason themselves into.” If you have a convincing empirical argument, you don’t invoke faith.

      Interesting when you equate criticism of religion with making people “other” than you. We atheists are the ones who want to bring everyone onto the common ground of an objective reality where no group has special access to mystical truths, and we are equal in our humanity. When religion divides, it divides those who are of God, from those who are not. Can you think of a better way to dehumanize people than to claim that they lack — or reject — the nature, wisdom, and value of God? Again, with no test in reality to show who is god-loved, and who is not; who is saved, who is not; who is enlightened, who is not.

      When the belief that all worth comes from God, or rests on the God-nature, is added to this ability to divide — faith is a powderkeg. It’s an accident waiting to happen. It gives people the power to think they are followers of something Greater than humanity, in the hope of something greater than the world.

      Remember when you make your arguments to us atheists, that when you can show religion making sense, we can justifiably point out that that part isn’t the part that makes religion religion. It’s philosophy, or ethics, or practical matters.

      It’s not religion until it can’t make sense to an atheist.

      That’s going to really hamper your effort to persuade us that it’s not dangerous in any special way.

      • Rebecca Sparks
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

        Remember when you make your arguments to us atheists…

        Do you know if I am a theist or atheist? I don’t think I’ve mentioned a religious affiliation or lack of one at all. Maybe I’m automatically disqualified from atheism because my some arguments “can’t make sense to atheists” :( (I keed, I keed; Just trying to ad some levity.)

        Your definition of religion suffers from Circulus in demonstrando, and that’s a logical fallacy you just cannot win against.
        I feel like you did not really respond to the points I was making. Perhaps I was unclear. Is there something that I can clarify, or maybe you can restate your position in a different way?

        • Sastra
          Posted April 5, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

          What is your definition of religion?

          When I said that religion cannot make “sense” to an atheist, I meant that it has to contain unique non-secular elements with which an atheist would not agree.

          • Rebecca Sparks
            Posted April 5, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

            I tried writing what I thought, but it was very long and this is a little OT anyway, so I’m going to crib from Durkheim– “A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden – beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them (1965[1912] 62).”

            It doesn’t perfectly capture what I think
            I would say beliefs (or practice, and I wouldn’t have named a Church as a necessary feature of religion), but it’s close enough that you get the idea. I like a practical definition of knowledge that centers around people as the source of religion, that is flexible in scope yet not so vague as to be completely unsustainable, and that works more like a checklist than a judgement call.

            É. Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (New York: Free Press, 1965 [1912])

            • truthspeaker
              Posted April 5, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

              “religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden”

              That’s the non-secular thing with which atheists would not agree.

            • Sastra
              Posted April 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

              “A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden – beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them

              Your definition here points out that religion unites its members by creating a division between the sacred and the profane, and the religious and the secular. To this I would add a belief in supernatural or transcendent truths unavailable to outsiders — whether those outsiders are members of other groups, or simply people who seek to understand reality without special revelations given to the privileged few.

              You were suggesting that religion adds nothing particularly unique or damaging to existing disputes. The disputes would be there regardless, and just as intense.

              I disagree, and tried to outline why in the above post. Faith is a very dangerous element, because it removes the ‘sacred’ from public scrutiny, critique, or negotiation. And it ups the ante.

              Your enemies, are now God’s enemies: and God’s enemies, are yours. The conflict has gone cosmic, and against the purpose of humanity. Consider any of the common causes of strife — and now add religious justification to it. It becomes intractable in a way it wasn’t before.

              The “sacred” creates scarce resources that would not otherwise exist. It creates needs for purity or orthodoxy which would not otherwise exist. And it creates crimes of profanity or heresy that would not otherwise exist.

              But can’t religion inspire peace as well as strife? Can’t it be reasonable? Sure.

              But the religious are not ultimately resting their choices on the rational, but on the irrational — those sacred things set apart and forbidden to outsiders. And we have lost the common ground.

              There is nothing in that definition of religion which anchors any of the beliefs to fair test for reasonableness and sense. When religion is reasonable, and advocates behavior which makes sense otherwise, regardless of the fact that it was inspired by religion — we got lucky.

              There is nothing more arbitrary than a morality based on facts known through faith. It can go anywhere. Religions improve as they take on elements of humanism: but that is not an argument in favor of religion. It’s an argument in favor of humanism.

  30. Jim Jones
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    http://www.atheistsnever.com/

    (You might want to submit these there).

  31. raven
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Rebecca misses the points.

    1. Sure religion produces both good and bad. So what? What is important is the balance, how much good, how much bad. These days in most of the world, the balance is tilted way far in the direction of bad, evil, malignant.

    Would Afghanistan be a basket case with an average lifespan 30 years less than ours without their medieval brand of Islam? Probably not.

    We see this is the USA too. Who has the corner on hatred and ignorance these days? The anti-gay, anti-science, anti-woman, anti-everything, pro-lies and ignorance, fundie death cultists.

    2. Religion is an artifical way to divide people. What is the difference between an Irish Catholic and Irish Protestant? Not much but the religion issue is enough for them to enthusiastically kill each other.

    Steven Weinberg said it.
    Good people will do good, bad people will do bad. But it takes religion to make good people do bad things.

    • Posted April 4, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Irish Catholic vs Irish Protestant? You might want to go back and look at your history. There’s a reason why there are Irish Catholics and non-Catholics, which has much to do with the original hatred and perpetual fighting. Its not like both religions started in the country at the same time and was randomly distributed among people.

    • Rebecca Sparks
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      I think you are missing a lost of history on both Afghanistan and Ireland that give context to the problems that exist today. When we try to fix these problems and only focus on one aspect, we fail. We need to see a problems roots situated in history, economics, culture and religion, with a global and local scope. I admit could give more attention to religion being a problem all by itself, but its difficult when I feel like I need to champion all the other factors are excluded when religion is picked as the root cause.

      • Posted April 5, 2011 at 1:53 am | Permalink

        its difficult when I feel like I need to champion all the other factors are excluded when religion is picked as the root cause.

        But that’s not what Jerry did – he never said religion was the root cause. But in many cases, including Afghanistan and Ireland, religion is a critical factor in the feedback loop. The situation would arguably be very different if religion hadn’t been there.

        And, like I said before, even if for the sake of argument we assume religion wasn’t an important factor in causing these conflicts, it’s pretty sure that religion is a major obstacle now for resolving them.

        • Rebecca Sparks
          Posted April 5, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

          Jerry said, “things [on this list] wouldn’t have happened without religion”. I think by saying “root” I was overemphasising his stand, but you are downplaying the role he was expecting religion to play in the items he listed. I think that in a godless world without religion, the conflict would have played out on ethnic lines, which can also be very bloody. (The Rowandan Genocide in 1994 between the Tutsi/Hutu is an example of a non-religious ethnic/political conflict.)

          No one is saying that religion is not entangled in the conflict in Northern Ireland. How big of an influence, if it was a necessary feature of the Troubles is what is being debated.

          I’m not exactly how critical religion plays in Northern Ireland’s peace (or lack thereof), but I’m definitely reading Believing in Belfast in the next few months, so I’ll be better informed.

  32. Posted April 4, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    As an autodidactic expert on Galileo, I say that his persecution was indeed–as the Church now claims–a civil and political affair.
    What the Church fails to mention is in 16th and 17th century Tuscany both civic and political affairs were controlled by the Church and its Inquisition.
    Galileo’s persecution is an excellent argument for the separation of church and state.

  33. Ossicle
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I see litchick made a similar observation, but I’d certainly place Israeli injustice toward/murder of Palestinians on your list. Hard not to think your extreme cultural Jewishness isn’t rearing its head here.

  34. Filippo
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    “The persecution of Galileo? A civil and political affair, not involving faith.”

    I gather that the roasting, and the driving of a spike through the tongue, of Giordano Bruno was also a “civil and political affair”?

  35. Posted April 4, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Rebecca and Dan–

    I would have to say that I do see faith as one of the evils of this world. It has an insidious power, due in large part, it seems, to it’s complete rejection of evidence. Once you accept the idea that it’s a _virtue_ to believe despite a lack of evidence, especially something as important as a religious belief, it becomes easier to justify, well, almost anything apparently.

    However, I also think that it’s not the only cause of evil in humanity. By coincidence, I touched on some of this in my own blog this past weekend. I’ll only quote one part of it, as the post is fairly long.

    I can think of times when I have shown compassion and goodness, and I can think of times when I’ve been cruel, selfish, and so-much-less than good. I look at the people I love, and the people I’ve known, and I see the same: moments of compassion, and moments of pettiness. I look at the world I see in the news, and I see the same: moments of good, and moments of evil. And everywhere, I see things that fall between the extremes. To blame or thank god for any of it, to blame or thank the devil for any of it, is false. More than false, it seems at times downright harmful.

    The rest of my argument is at http://nathandst.blogspot.com/2011/04/humanity-is-good-and-evil-dont-blame-it.html

    Faith comes from humans, not god. We have to deal with it as such. The other problems that Rebecca’s pointing out can exist without faith, but faith makes it far easier to continue justifying them.

    PS: Professor Coyne, I apologize if I’ve overstepped in posting a link to my own blog. Feel free to moderate it out of there with no hard feelings from me.

  36. Gibbon
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    The problem isn’t religion, it’s actually human nature. Evil is not to be found in religion or anything other than humans; the capacity for evil is inherent in us. And before anyone gets the idea that I’m playing to Original Sin here, I will point out that the capacity for good is inherent in us humans too. We are BOTH good and evil. When it comes to religion, it is not the case that it is good or evil, it is neither; religion is in fact value neutral, much like a hammer. A hammer can be used for constructive purposes, but it can also be used for destructive purposes, but no one would blame a hammer if a person used it to kill someone. What determines the consequences from the use of religion is whether the user is more predisposed towards doing good OR evil.

    To add one other thing. Jerry Coyne was wrong to say that the Northern Ireland Troubles was a religious conflict. The root cause for which the conflict took place was political; it was a dispute over the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. Should the territory join with the United Kingdom or should it be a part of the Republic of Ireland? The reason why the divide in the Troubles appeared to fall along religious boundaries is because those who identified as Protestant would not normally want their territory to become a part of a Catholic nation, and the opposite applies to those who identified as Catholic: they wouldn’t want their home to become a part of a nation where Protestantism is the dominant religion. But still, the Troubles was not caused by religion, instead at the heart of it was political differences, and to a lesser extent that goes back through the history of the region, it was territorial.

    I will further point out that no conflict or event can be reduced to one single cause; there is always a complex equation of events which contribute to and cause each new event. Not even World War II and the Holocaust can be reduced to a single cause. The anti-Semitism of the German Christians was not solely to blame for the Holocaust and WWII as the economic strife caused by World War I and the economic collapse in the 1920s and the following Great Depression all contributed to causing WWII and the Holocaust.

    It doesn’t matter if you managed to get rid of religion; we would still be a tribalistic, individualistic, violent species without it. And we would instead look for anything else to justify any and all violent actions.

    • David
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      The thing is we know we are all those rotten thing and we overcome them. We get past them with reason and evidence and compassion. Religion suspends reason and denigrates evidence.

      It has lots of compassion though, they cherish your imagined soul so much they will torture you to death to save your immortal soul, even if it isn’t really there, thats just how much they love you. They will rape you repeatedly and crush your head with stones because they fear you may have strayed, really its for the best and most compassionate reason.

      Don’t for a second believe religion has grown the only reason these things don’t happen here in the states is because the church was defanged. They like to pretend they gave those things up willingly because they figured out it was wrong. If it ever flips back to church control it will be back in the fire for any freethinkers or gays.

      This isn’t even a guess, all you need do is look at any theocracy and see how it would be.

    • Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

      You could say the same thing about viruses but that’s not to say we shouldn’t try to use our knowledge to defend against them.

      In the same way, we understand that the problem with religion is that it is used as an authority over and above reason, over and above what is true, over and above what is knowable.

      We need to grow up and teach others how to be reasonable and responsible and independent in mind if not for the welfare of one’s critical and sceptical self then for the intellectual health and welfare of the next generation.

      Claiming as you do that our nature is now and always shall be violent is no reason to capitulate this responsibility. It is a poor excuse you offer.

      We need to defend ourselves from this dangerous and insidious willingness of the many to accept the authority of pseudo-knowledge from this divine tyranny in the name pseudo-comfort. A good first step is to respect what’s true and what is knowable. Religious belief impedes both.

      • Gibbon
        Posted April 5, 2011 at 8:23 am | Permalink

        Except tildeb, religion is in no way comparable to a virus. One is an entity with the agency to act independently of other organisms and can replicate in order to survive (hint: it’s the biological one), while the other is a complex institution through which humans as individuals or as a group can exert any type and form of force.

        By the way how can you claim to know what the problem with religion is when you and many others here, have such a skewed view of the nature of religion. Everywhere I look you are talking about it and treating it as if it is an ideology or specific set of beliefs. But the problem with that is that it is based not on evidence but on Protestant theology/philosophy, which has so pervaded the Western hemisphere. In fact, as the lecturer in my Buddhism course pointed out last week, social scientists have only in the last few decades started to shake of that Protestant influence and consider religion in terms of practice and action.

        By the way, while independence of mind may be a good thing it needs to be balanced out by promoting moral obligations and social responsibility, as well as reinforcing the idea that listening to others and respecting them no matter how much you disagree with them. If everyone became too independent minded then we would start to see more evil, because what makes a person evil or a monster is when they serve the well-being and interests of themselves while intentionally neglecting those of everyone else. Evil is the height of independence and selfishness.

        I’m not capitulating any responsibility, I’m simply pointing out that the root of the problem goes deeper than religion and that getting rid of it is unlikely to achieve anything worthwhile. I recognise that we have an obligation to act responsibly and to improve society for later generations, but based on the abundance of evidence that the 20th century has provided, getting rid of religion will improve nothing.

        • Posted April 5, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

          You missed my point, Gibbon: you asserted that religion is in fact value neutral. I could argue that viruses are ‘value neutral’ if I encapsulate the idea to remain separate and distinct from their effects in human populations but I still think it is wise to defend against them as it is to defend against religious belief because the effects of their interaction in human populations are both negative.

          Jerry’s point is that you can draw a straight line between religious belief and the actions of murdering people in its name. Get rid of the religion, get rid of this specific motivation that fueled this specific act. Without religious belief, this act would not have happened.

          If religious belief were in fact value neutral causing neutral effects in human populations, no such clear line could be established in this specific case. But it can so established. This evidence reveals your assertion to be factually wrong in practice.

          As for my ‘skewed view’, religious belief is predicated on granting faith-based belief legitimacy. It has none in fact. Its epistemology is broken, in that it begins with an assertion held to be true and only the facts that support the conclusion are recognized as valid. This is, in fact, the same broken thinking you use in your attempt to show religion to be value neutral: you simply ignore contrary evidence. This is not a position of strength for your argument but a revelation… if you will honestly consider its implications to your intellectual integrity and honesty. And this is where you must decide to either respect what’s true and knowable or respect what is believed to be true and knowable. The two positions are not compatible and only one – respecting what’s true – is intellectually honest.

          • Posted April 5, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

            “religious belief is predicated on granting faith-based belief legitimacy. It has none in fact.”

            Isn’t there a meaningful difference here between “legitimizing” beliefs that justify killing infidels and “legitimizing” imaginative constructions like Santa Claus?

            One way of thinking about this is that these are subtle variations of the same thing and then consider the “legitimizing” to be identical in both cases. Reason vs. the irrational.

            Another take is to envision them as very different uses of imagination that people in general assign different credibility and use to justify different things.

            The question in my mind is whether discouraging imagination and useful illusions in general really is an efficient or effective way to address the killing of infidels.

            If not, then maybe we should be extracting the other more specific things about religion that we don’t like and focus on them instead of just promoting pragmatic testing as the only way of seeing, and claiming it to be a solution for our inhumanities.

            I mean, science is grand, but most scientists go right along with the war machine and contribute to it when asked. Knowing more facts of nature more accurately doesn’t do that much to facilitate moral reasoning.

            • David
              Posted April 5, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

              Todd you make a lot of assertions without any evidence. I don’t know if most scientists just go along with the war machine. Is there a poll somewhere showing what percentage of scientists are war mongers and which prefer peace?

              Its a silly statement to make.

              There may be many different ways of seeing things, but currently there really is only one way of knowing things that has proven itself.

              • Posted April 5, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

                David, I think you’re just being argumentative with that reply. You don’t really expect me to spend time gathering “evidence” for you for the assertion that knowing facts of nature is inadequate for moral reasoning. If you had enough interest in the subject to have a reasonable conversation about it, you wouldn’t be calling it a silly assertion, you’d have made a substantive point about it.

            • Posted April 5, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

              Todd, you assert that knowing facts of nature is inadequate for moral reasoning and knowing more facts of nature more accurately doesn’t do that much to facilitate moral reasoning.

              On what are you basing this assertion? If not facts in nature, on what are you basing your claims to gaining any kind of meaningful knowledge through moral reasoning?

              In other words, if our investigation of facts reveals substantial evidence that our biology informs our expressions of moral behaviour in species wide consistent ways that is knowable and predictive, doesn’t that do more to facilitate a better understanding of the very basis of our moral reasoning than simply asserting that a supernatural creative agency magically transfers a metaphysical Moral Law into us by imprinting our hearts with this divine knowledge through scriptural metaphor?

              Do you i>honestly think the latter provides us us with a better understanding about human morality?

              • Posted April 6, 2011 at 12:32 am | Permalink

                Tildeb, my point is not to compare reasoning from facts of nature with reasoning from myth themes. My point is that I think it is plausible that reasoning plays a small role in moral decision making regardless of our factual knowledge base. Moral emotions and rapid non-conscious judgments seem to play a much larger role in a wide rage of situations. For example, see: http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/mft/index.php I can’t argue for it definitively, nor do I see anyone arguing against it definitively. It seems to me reasonably consistent with a number of lines of evidence though from brain damage studies and decision research.

              • Posted April 6, 2011 at 5:23 am | Permalink

                Not so fast, Todd. How do we know Santa Claus isn’t real? How do we know if killing infidels is right or wrong? On what rubric should we figure this stuff out?

                If we accept that imaginings and useful illusions are just as good a method to inform this rubric as any other, I say we have capitulated our ability to answer those questions with knowledge.

                You easily shift your position from assertions about morality to moral reasoning to moral emotions to rapid non-conscious judgments. That you put forth such a moving target means it is presented to be difficult to hit.

              • Posted April 6, 2011 at 7:01 am | Permalink

                Tildeb, I apologize, I don’t think it’s a moving target neccessarily. I think your understanding of my words shifted because I confusingly tried to explain it using different terms in two posts: moral emotions vs. moral reasoning. I was thinking the same thing procoess in each case, the underlying process by which we make moral decisions. That was entirely my mistake.

                I certainly agree that we do also need realistic knowledge to make decisions!!

                We’re talking about matters of degree of how much logic matters and how much moral emotions matter. Thanks very much for your comments.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted April 5, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

              “The question in my mind is whether discouraging imagination and useful illusions in general really is an efficient or effective way to address the killing of infidels.”

              Nobody is advocating that we discourage imagination and useful illusions. We are advocating that we discourage religion – which carries the requirement that you believe the illusions are real.

              • Posted April 6, 2011 at 12:56 am | Permalink

                “religion – which carries the requirement that you believe the illusions are real”

                I don’t think “religion” as a cultural universal in general works that way, although there are surely places where formal requirements for professions of faith become a factor.

                I think the more general case is more a matter of imaginings being believed because of involvement in them rather than because of externally imposed sanctions. I know there are exceptions. I just wanted to help clarify my previous point.

                Other than that, I will have to defer on all these arguments because I’m getting the feeling that, following Dr. Coyne’s lead, we’re not really talking about “religion” as I think of it at all, but about certain specific aspects of Abrahamic religions that seem to foster extremist elements. I have no interest in supporting those elements in any way.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted April 6, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

                “I think the more general case is more a matter of imaginings being believed because of involvement in them rather than because of externally imposed sanctions.”

                That’s what I meant by “carries the requirement that you believe the illusions are real”. I wasn’t only talking about externally imposed sanctions.

                “I’m getting the feeling that, following Dr. Coyne’s lead, we’re not really talking about “religion” as I think of it at all, but about certain specific aspects of Abrahamic religions that seem to foster extremist elements.”

                No, we’re talking about all religions.

                ALL the Abrahamic religions, not just the fundamentalist sects, require their followers to believe in the supernatural.

              • Posted April 6, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

                “ALL the Abrahamic religions, not just the fundamentalist sects, require their followers to believe in the supernatural.”

                Ok, I’ll defer on that. I was raised Jewish and never felt the slightest compulsion or encouragement to believe in the supernatural, I always thought of the lessons as stories. But I guess that’s why I’m an atheist. They probably did expect me to take it more seriously than I did!

    • Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      Your hammer analogy would only hold up if hammers came with instructions regarding who to injure.

      You want to say human nature is the ultimate culprit? Fine. And religion is the most common outlet for the awfulness that’s inside us. Heck, it was invented to be! Why not grow out of it? Why not beat our “hammers” into plowshares?

      • Gibbon
        Posted April 5, 2011 at 6:47 am | Permalink

        1. Religion doesn’t come with instructions; we make those instructions ourselves, and insert them in to the template of religion thereby creating a new religious denomination.

        2. Religion has only been the most common outlet for the expression of evil because it is ubiquitous with human nature, and because for most of history there hasn’t been anything else to serve as an outlet.

        3. There is no possible way that anyone could have invented religion. It is an incredibly complex sociological, anthropological, philosophical, psychological, institution of practices, symbols, beliefs, and morals.

        4. As for growing out of it? I see no reason to belive that would happen any time soon, considering that it is tied into human nature.

        • Posted April 5, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink

          1) …we make those instructions ourselves…

          We sure do. And that’s what religion is.

          2) See 1.

          3) I didn’t mean to say one person sat down and dreamt up religion overnight. The meme that is religion is a human invention. Are you saying it isn’t? That it just exists out there in the universe, independent of humans, like carbon? Oh sure, it’s complex now – it’s had several millennia to become so. But it’s original primary purposes were to strengthen tribalism (them/us) and provide an insidious power construct – purposes which it is still fulfilling today.

          4) I grew out if it. I am not special. Other people can, too.

          • Gibbon
            Posted April 5, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

            1. Religion is not doctrine. While it is unclear as to what religion is exactly, it is perfectly clear that there is much more to it than just belief (instruction). In fact, it is most likely that belief is but the tip of the iceberg.

            If you’re going to quote me do it properly, rather than resorting to quote mining.

            2. You made no point, and so nothing needs addresing.

            3. Actually, it is unclear where the notion of religion came from. But what most people think of as religion: belief in a higher power, is in fact a Protestant construct.

            As for the origins of religion, it is my understanding that it is a natural and undirected outgrowth of human nature.

            As for the purposes of religion, you’re right to point out a strengthening of tribalism. But there is also generating a sense of social order. Added to that is the communication and enforcement of morality.

            4. Not everyone in this world has a privileged enough life that they are without any need that religion can satisfy. Not everyone is like you and me.

            • Posted April 5, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

              Well, I won’t attempt a point-by-point rebuttal, as it seems we’re just not going to see eye to eye on these points.

              I will, however, address again your idea that religion is a tool that can be used constructively or destructively, and only serves as an outlet for what’s already in us, good or bad.

              A friend of mine growing up adopted a homophobic attitude, as he was a member of a fundamental Xian denomination. He also participated in a number of service projects organized by the church.

              Today he is appalled by
              the homophobia he once espoused, and is grateful that he now knows there is no divine mandate against homosexuality. He also still gives blood and volunteers at Feed My Starving Children.

              Is this just an anecdote? Sure. But it does demonstrate that religion can inspire evil that is not already there, and that religion is not necessary as an outlet for the good. Just like Hitchens’ famous challenge.

              • David
                Posted April 5, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

                Which religion does not have a set of instructions?

                I’m pretty sure the largest ones all have specific rules.

              • Posted April 5, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

                David:
                Indeed. Gibbon’s the one trying to say religion is something other than a collection of dogma.

          • Diane G.
            Posted April 5, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

            I didn’t mean to say one person sat down and dreamt up religion overnight.

            Though Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard came pretty damn close to that… :D

        • Posted April 5, 2011 at 7:53 am | Permalink

          Just to add to point 4:

          Ben Giren offered this analogy upthread a bit:

          People would still die in car crashes even if nobody ever got drunk behind the wheel ever again, and we’ll never be able to 100% eliminate drunk driving. That doesn’t mean that drunk driving is a good thing we should all respect and support.

          To which I would add it also doesn’t mean we should give up trying to eradicate it.

          • Gibbon
            Posted April 5, 2011 at 8:22 am | Permalink

            The difference between drunk driving and religion is that the former does not contribute anything of benefit, while the latter for the majority of people can satisfy the social side of human nature; that urge to belong to find safety in numbers.

            Except that any concerted effort to eradicate religion can only be achieved through an authoritarian regime. the catch is that when the regime eventually falls religion will spring back.

            • Posted April 5, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink

              No. An attempt to eradicate religion does not require an authoritarian regime. We are in the process of eradicating it as we type! More and more people are “wising up”, thanks to vocal atheists who make compelling arguments. Just like the religion meme took off, so can the atheism meme.

              • Posted April 5, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

                “More and more people are “wising up”, thanks to vocal atheists who make compelling arguments.”

                Thank you. That’s a very useful comment for me. I think if I believed this were literally true, I would be a lot more sympathetic to militant atheism than I am. I’m very skeptical that the acquisition of beliefs works this way for most people. I think it ignores the fundamental role of imagination, biases, shortcuts, etc. in cognition and in the assignment of credibility to beliefs.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      Gibbon wrote:

      When it comes to religion, it is not the case that it is good or evil, it is neither; religion is in fact value neutral, much like a hammer.

      I disagree. Religion rests on belief in supernatural/spiritual facts which can only be known by an enlightened few through special means, with no common test in reality. This is a very dangerous tool for a species which needs to keep in mind its fallibility, and tendency to err.

      When it’s used for “good,” this good is only good when evaluated by the standards of the world. But those aren’t what religion appeals to — it invokes knowledge from hidden realities, unprovable facts, faith-based assertions. As I wrote above, it’s not religion unless it couldn’t make sense to a reasonable, ethical atheist.

      It adds an element of divisive intractability to every other issue. There’s no appeal against God.

      • Sastra
        Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

        Religion is neutral like absolute dictatorships are neutral. You can have a benign, fair, reasonable dictator who cares deeply about the welfare of all his people — or you can have the other sort.

        But there is no inherent problem with absolute dictatorships as such. You have to evaluate each despot individually, to see if he has imposed good, or evil.

        • Gibbon
          Posted April 5, 2011 at 7:45 am | Permalink

          While religion can be used by tyrants and other authoritarian regimes to oppress the masses, it can also be used by the masses to protest against and even overthrow the tyrants. Such is the nature of religion.

          • Doug Kirk
            Posted April 5, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

            You completely missed Sastra’s point here. It’s that claiming that religion can be used for both good and bad is the exact same thing as claiming that authoritarian dictatorships can be used for both good and bad. Nevermind that the massive piles of evidence show that bad dictators outnumber good dictators in the neighborhood of millions to ones, it doesn’t mean that dictatorships are a poor form of government!! And we should never try to have a different government or replace a dictatorship, or help its people escape the brutal regimes, surely! It’s just a tool for governing people.

            Never mind that religion can be used to justify any atrocity, no matter how awful. Never mind that the basis of religion is belief without evidence in a supernatural force or the acknowledgment that belief without eveidence is just as valid as belief with evidence (thank you UUs). It’s just a tool for … dividing people? And it can be used for good too! Even though 99 out of 100 times it’s used for bad.

    • Doug Kirk
      Posted April 5, 2011 at 6:10 am | Permalink

      “Troubles appeared to fall along religious boundaries is because those who identified as Protestant would not normally want their territory to become a part of a Catholic nation, and the opposite applies to those who identified as Catholic: they wouldn’t want their home to become a part of a nation where Protestantism is the dominant religion. But still, the Troubles was not caused by religion”

      Really? Really? You can’t see the gross rationalization in this? I would ask how anyone could be so blind and self contradictory, but that is waht religion does to people.

      • Gibbon
        Posted April 5, 2011 at 7:01 am | Permalink

        That’s interesting you would say that Doug, since I have never belonged to any religion, and possess no reason to join one.

        I was hesitant about writing that piece you quoted, because I had my suspicions that someone would misinterpret what I said and draw the completely wrong conclusion. Thank you Doug for confirming that suspicion. But the point still remains, that despite there being a veneer of religion to the Troubles, it was fundamentally still a political and territorial based conflict.

        • Doug Kirk
          Posted April 5, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

          I don’t think you have to actually be religious for the rationalization common to religious thinking to pervade your thought.

          Based on what you wrote, I could only conclude that religion was the primary motivating factor. Sure, there are other reasons, but the primary factor was religion. And religion (specifically the fact that any religion can be used to justify any action, no matter how horrid) catalyzed the build-up to violence that otherwise could have been solved with less bloodshed. Because catholics wouldn’t want to have a protestant government and protestants wouldn’t want to have a catholic government.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted April 5, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

          “those who identified as Protestant would not normally want their territory to become a part of a Catholic nation, and the opposite applies to those who identified as Catholic: they wouldn’t want their home to become a part of a nation where Protestantism is the dominant religion”

          If it weren’t for religion, they wouldn’t have cared about that.

  37. Diane G.
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Having stated on an earlier thread that some of us see religion as a sort of subset of a larger problem of human tribalism, I hasten to state that I in no way align with the accomodationists, post-modernists, cultural-relativists, or anyone else looking to excuse, rationalize, or diminish the culpability of religion. I’d certainly agree that religion is possibly the worst of the current tribalisms we deal with, largely due to its undeserved mantle of respect that aims to remove it from critical discussion.

    To suggest that some religious leaders manipulate faithful masses out of other-than-holy motives in no way mitigates the fact that it is only the existence of religious belief in the first place that allows such manipulation to occur.

  38. Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    Religious thinking is sort of a base cause for just about everything wrong in the world, to the point that I know I sometimes forget to specifically blame it. Any time you make it a habit to believe things without any good reason, you’ve primed yourself to do really bad things for really bad reasons.

  39. Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    I got two for you:
    1. The whole idea that Faith is a virtue.
    2. The support for authority on faith.

    Both of these are concepts pushed by religions which contribute to the net harm of society rather than a particular act.

  40. Jon
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    Children being labeled as witches in parts of Africa. Resulting in many terrible things. Such as Death, Torture, Burnings, and Mutilation of young children.

  41. MadScientist
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    I’d like to add:

    “The represssion of women according to christian law and custom”

    Anti-choice mobs, the pope and company insisting that women should die rather than having a medically necessary abortion, the pope etc. insisting that a woman’s place is in the home/kitchen. All in all, christianity is as backwards as mohammedanism and will only yield when its ideals are so far out of favor with the general populace that the self-proclaimed messengers of god fear for their lives. I hope for an era free of religion. There is no need to threaten any of the pompous god messengers, but hopefully public education advances to the stage where most people realize there really aren’t any fairies.

  42. Bruce Gorton
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    A South African example:

    American evangelical Christian prayer camps that sell the idea that they can pray AIDS away. This is particularly evil in cases where the AIDS sufferer is convinced that he or she has been cured.

  43. Ana
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    its missing hitler and what he did to 17 million lifes, he was a christian and if you listen to audio files from him, read his book (the real one, not the one who doesnt talk about christianity, instead of cults, and the nazis wore on their belt GOTT MIT UNS, god is with us.
    Also, holy wars, burning of “withces”, spanish inquisition,rapes of girls in sweden for not wearing the RIGHT CLOTHES franco (spanish dictator who ruled side by side with the catholic church, killed a lot of people and made illegal other religions who werent catholic), slavery in USA, etc

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 5, 2011 at 5:07 am | Permalink

      I wish Coyne had insisted on references for observations, and of course correlation isn’t causation.

      For example, when I see this list that looks as much free association I would like to see the references too. Like the claim that “rapes of girls in sweden for not wearing the RIGHT CLOTHES”; I’m a swede and have never heard of it.

      What we have, and I think statistics and possible even research into this bears it out, is an unfortunate tendency in swedish courts to blame the victim in these cases. Apparently the question of appearance is routine, to the extent that women used to shy away from courts with this as a contributing cause. (It has gotten better, yay, no thanks to this part of the legal system however.)

      Now our court system is, some believe, in need of revision. We have chosen lay members instead of elected jury, where political and, yes, religious political people will have a fixed seat for long periods. This inserts both non-legalistic judgment to the detriment of justice, according to some, and possibly minority moral values (say, religious).

      But I haven’t heard of rapes caused by religion outside of closed cults. There are folk ideas that rape is tied to relatively rare imported dishonorable “honor systems” (where religion may in cases share blame as a cover for the custom) with the goal to suppress individual freedom of family members and women particularly; I don’t think it is established fact.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted April 5, 2011 at 5:14 am | Permalink

        D’oh! Now I remember, _of course_ it has surfaced putative cases of rapes from the Church of Pedophilia (I believe it was used to be called “catholic church” :-/) here too.

        Not exactly “a closed cult”. But not exactly for “not wearing the right clothes” either.

  44. Teapot
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    In response to a few of the above comments, it is certainly the case that the problems in Northern Ireland (and the west of Scotland) are as much about nationalism as religion.

    Northern Irish Protestants are basically Scottish (17th century immigrants) while Scottish Catholics are basically Irish (19th century immigrants), so you can just as easily see it as Scottish v Irish rather than Protestant v Catholic.

    Of course, without religion, would the “national” difference have persisted?

  45. Posted April 5, 2011 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    Yes I think this is right in the sense that there are a lot of awful things that would have either been less likely or would not have happened to the same degree, if at all, without using religion to sanction them.

    I think arguing that religion *causing* them is more problematic though. Motives for human action aren’t driven primarily by abstracts, they’re rationalized by abstracts, in my opinion, taken in aggregate.

    I also suspect a reasonable case can be made that some things we find very important and positive today would not have happened either if our minds evolved as logic and evidence engines rather than the sort of imaginative minds that allow religion to take hold.

  46. mira
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    It’s impossible to escape humanness only to ignore and pretend as happens with religion.

    “Xenophobia, politics, colonialism, and the like” – we’ve only been able to identify these universal root evils the religious apologists so love to use these days thanks to secular thought! It’s easy to forget that when the state and the church were one and religion ruled the minds it used to read more like “pagans, heretics, god’s chosen people the rightful rulers”.

    The apologists have invented a way of harnessing the secular thought for magical responsibility shifting and an explain-away by carefully selective use. (Taken to extreme secular itself can be made a synonym for evil by this.) The same technique of selectivity can even be turned on the good things to show that these are “actually” religious concepts.

    The trick is to never really apply the secular thought fully, only an impression may be given by masterful juggling with topics and mind acrobatics. One should never let it land on religious concepts.

    “Faith” reveals among other things a fine synergistic system of credulity, conformity bias, superstition, appeal and vulnerability to authority, wishful thinking and obduracy. Quite worth a root evil status.

    There’s no cheating in secular reductionism game or you’ll end up in a “eat one’s cake and have it too” situation.

    • Posted April 5, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      ***“Faith” reveals among other things a fine synergistic system of credulity, conformity bias, superstition, appeal and vulnerability to authority, wishful thinking and obduracy.***

      True enough. And simply taking on a rationalist philosophy doesn’t in any way avoid these same biases either. It’s a start, but I think a lot of people imagine just being systematically non-religious is enough to purge them of the same biases, and that is clearly not true.

      • mira
        Posted April 5, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        Indeed that’s what I meant. I’ve grown up in a largely non theistic society and all those biases are well and alive maybe in a reduced concentration and not in such a strong self-perpetuating system.

    • Posted April 5, 2011 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      “we’ve only been able to identify these universal root evils”

      Are evils and “isms” pressed upon man? If so, at what point? Are we born into a bias, or is it introduced to us? In other words, do you all think man is born a blank slate and introduced to a bias or born with a bias without need for outside influence?

      If we think evil comes from us only because of outside evil coming into us, then we need to understand what we are before the evil is introduced. We may then understand the role of religion and thing like it better.

      • mira
        Posted April 5, 2011 at 11:47 am | Permalink

        The short answer would be that the evils or ills if you prefer can be seen as information-processing shortcuts, side-effects, or vestiges that used to serve our genes well in a different environment or even what is good for our genes may not be good for our conscious selves at lest there needs not be a perfect symmetry.

  47. Rodeo
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    The main article fails to make the important distinction between religious PEOPLE and organised religious movements.

    Religious PEOPLE, are simply the ignorant / misguided who have yet to try (and obviously fail) to reconcile religious doctrine with modern day knowledge, especially of science. Religious PEOPLE are to be pitied, not vilified.

    ORGANISED RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS are a different kettle of fish altogether. Although it is true that through modern and ancient history they have been both directly and indirectly responsible for horrific atrocities, it can be concluded that this is because a bunch of madmen (yes, and women but mainly men) had ready and willing armies of the indoctrinated to carry them out.

    One need look no further than Nazi Germany (though if you needed too there are plenty of other examples) to realize that sadly, “Armies of the Indoctrinated” are not the exclusive preserve of the Church / Mosque / Synagogue.

    Sadly, as time passes and religion inevitably fades as a force in the world, there will be no guarantee that atrocities will not happen. That said “armies of the indoctrinated” will hopefully be harder to come by.

    I will just add a couple of random points though.

    1. It is telling that on your list 9/11 is mentioned first. I know you American boys and girls don’t want to hear this, but there are plenty of reasons (with various degrees of validity) for people outside of the US to want to harm the US. It is not necessarily a religious war, that said I will readily cede the point that dangling a favoured seat at God’s right hand with a gang of Virgins, makes waging war much easier.

    2. You write “The pedophilic marriage customs of some Mormon sects”, I’m not a big paedophile fan myself but that said, nor am I signed up to the principle that on the morning of her 18th (or 16th or 21st depending on your jurisdiction) birthday a girl (yes and boys but mainly girls) is suddenly, inexplicably and quite miraculously able to have sexual relations without mental/physical/emotional/phychological harm. Seriously, how many people do you actually know who weren’t sexually active before the age of consent? I’m unsure what the answer is on that one, but until I figure it out I’m not making those Mormon guys right or wrong.

  48. Lion IRC
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Some of these items should definitely be on the list. Others should be removed because atheists and counter-apologists making lame anti-theist straw arguments only makes folk like me convinced that “Gnu Atheism” is running out of steam- scraping the bottom of the barrel.
    Debating at…

    http://forum.friendlyatheist.com/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=4362

  49. Don
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    What a remarkably substance-free commentary.

    Apparently there are some unnamed people who refuse to acknowledge that religion has much to do with atrocities committed in the name of religion. You don’t bother to name these people, or establish that they are in the majority of the apologist fold. And then you acknowledge that, to the extent that they claim that religion is a concurrent cause, they are right.

    And you propose to settle this debate by the primative application of “but for” causation.

    But of course, “but for” causation doesn’t illuminate. It doesn’t explain the degree of the influence of the factor isolated, and doesn’t deal with the larger philosophical question of whether every factor is a “but for” for every event. It is useless.

  50. Ludo
    Posted April 6, 2011 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    “Nobody dies because they don’t learn evolution”
    I do not agree: anti-evolutionism causes real damage and it kills people. I think it is good to realize that anti-evolutionism is not only obstruction of knowledge but also the active promotion of ignorance. And public ignorance can cause a lot of damage. The problem of the evolution of resistance to antibiotics has already been mentioned above. That really is a huge and growing problem. Think for example of antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis. Or the spread of resistant germs in poultry and cattle.
    Understanding evolution is a premise to understanding lots of health-linked problems.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted April 6, 2011 at 3:33 am | Permalink

      Doctors are perfectly aware of antibiotic resistance, as are farmers and agricultural firms about pesticide and herbicide resistance. Even if the public doesn’t understand them, the people in charge of these phenomena (even if they don’t immediately regard it as evolution) deal with then constantly. I am not aware of anybody who died of disease did so because of “ignorance of evolution” (whose?). Can you name one person killed because he/she “didn’t learn evolution”?

      • Ludo
        Posted April 6, 2011 at 5:41 am | Permalink

        It is my conviction that comprehending why something should (or should not) be done can help preventing errors. I remember a meeting (years ago) in a hospital about new ‘superbugs’ like MRSA. The physician responsible for hygiene was opposed to the idea of giving the nurses (and other hospital staff) some instruction about the biological background of this (then) new phenomenon. “They are not supposed to do know what they are doing – they are supposed to just do what we tell them to do: wash their hands every time they enter a room. Period!” I had then the opportunity to ask several nurses of that hospital I they obeyed the new hygiene rules. Many told me that they did not. Why not? They did not see any necessity for these “ritual washings”, which they thought were only meant for the eyes of visitors.
        I am convinced – but cannot prove – that this policy based on ignorance has slowed down the efficiency of the response against the new ‘superbugs’.
        In another context (prevention of occupational accidents) I have often seen people get angry and refusing to obey specific security rules when they had no idea of background and context.

        • Ludo
          Posted April 6, 2011 at 5:43 am | Permalink

          Sorry: please read ‘safety rules’ instead of ‘security rules’.

  51. Posted April 6, 2011 at 4:29 am | Permalink

    “The horrible and often lifelong guilt instilled in children by Catholic priests who scare them with thoughts of hell and constant admonitions about sin”

    Why the emphasis on Catholics? The fear of hellfire is at least as present, if not more, among Baptists and many other faiths.

  52. James Crunch
    Posted April 6, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    islam in africa -female circumcision

    hinduism – sati


4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] We're all familiar with those people who claim that no foul deed, no murder, no injury can be laid at the feet of faith—at least in modern times.  They might grudgingly admit that the Inquisition or the Crusades may have had something to do with faith, but those were the bad old days.  Now things are different.  And while religion may seem to be involved in today's horrors and evils, when you look deeper, they say, you'll ultimately find the real … Read More [...]

  2. [...] Coyne is compiling a list of evils in which religion is to [...]

  3. [...] may even seem xenophobic. However, it continues to grow difficult to give religion a free pass, as Jerry Coyne points out quite eloquently. We see that religion gives individuals the justification needed to act [...]

  4. [...] This is an extremely common argument against Gnu atheism.  We’re only attacking the “bad faiths” (usually taken to mean Southern Baptists and radical, jihad-bent Muslims), not the “good ones” (presumably including everyone else).  And even the bad ones aren’t religions, they are “extremism carried out in religion’s name.”  But, as I’ve argued before, religion often enables bad behavior, and much of that behavior wouldn’t occur without religion (see my earlier post on “What does it take to blame religion?”) [...]

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