What Has Religion Done for Us This Month?

Daniel created a depressing-but-important montage of some of the awful things done in the name of God over the past month:

That sound you’re hearing is the faint whisper of a pastor somewhere saying you can’t be good without God.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • JustWondering

    I think they call blaming everyone in  a group for the actions of some “bigotry”.

    You know, like blaming “the Blacks” for crime in the streets, or “the Jews” for financial problems, or “illegal immigrants” for budget failures.

    Etc., Etc.  But it is good propaganda.

    • Dan

       A person is not black by choice; however, a person chooses to believe in nonsense and enable others who are willing to do terrible things in the name of this nonsense.  Not the same thing.

      • cxmiller10

        There’s nothing wrong with believing in nonsense if it doesn’t hurt anybody. Of course a lot of religious people use their beliefs to harm people, but there are also many who don’t (not to mention the issue of correlation vs. causation.) For that reason, I think it’s wise to avoid placing all the blame on religion and instead hold people accountable on an individual basis.

        • BlazeL

          Nah, its more fun to blame ALL Jews and Immigrants just like its more fun to blame all Christians.

          And I blame all atheists for Lenin, Trotsky, Pol Pot and their thousands of henchment.

          • Coyotenose

             Point to where you’re being blamed for this, rather than a broken ideology.

            Color me unsurprised that religionists stalking this board in desperate hope of being offended eventually start imagining things. It’s almost as if Christianity explicitly trains you to expect persecution because you’re special and the hero of the story…

          • http://profile.yahoo.com/AMNLPDE6FXKEQQ3GVHCCSRZD54 Dave Littler

            This hurtful stereotype you have about atheists is revelatory of a profound bigotry on your part.

            Why do you hate Gypsies and Homosexuals so much?

          • Patterrssonn

            It’s terrible isn’t it the way people blame the evil done in the name of religion, on religion. So unfair.

      • BlazeL

        What about Jews and Immigrants?  Do some choosing to do things enable other Jews and Immigrants to do “terrible things”? 

        • C Peterson

          I don’t know what “immigrants” have to do with anything. Certainly, being religiously Jewish provides motivations for doing bad things. Most Jews don’t, but plenty of people have used Jewish dogma as the rationalization for committing acts that are illegal and immoral in the eyes of most people.

    • Em

      In addition to what Dan said (and religiosity is a choice; folks convert between, into, and out of religious sects on a regular basis), blaming the philisophical system that provides the excuse is not the same as blaming all the people who subscribe to that system.

      A good parallel would be organized sports. Like a particular religion, folks can choose which organized sports they
      and their offspring play; they can even opt out of sports altogether.
      They’re all valid life choices (and you’ll even find people who’ll argue
      ad nauseum that football is better than hockey, though those people are CLEARLY wrong, says the Canadian commenter. ;) )

      One situation that’s been in the news in my area recently is the high rate of concussions among hockey players. The nature of hockey is such that it is an environment in which concussion is more likely. I’m a hockey fan myself, but I recognize that it’s caused harm to a lot of people, and that’s not a good thing.

      One thing hockey leagues and organizations have that religious institutions don’t, however, is an obligation to investigate incidents of harm, to regulate their membership (to coach in a kid’s league, I had to have references and pass a criminal background check, and quite right; if as a player I’d knowingly and intentionally caused harm to someone and said “well, it’s just how I play hockey”, I’d have no longer been welcome), and an obligation to consider changing their rules and equipment to see if there is a way to reduce the amount of harm done. We wear helmets now. We’ve said “no, you can’t check someone if they can’t see you coming”.

      I’m not saying religions don’t have an ethical obligation to do all of that. I think they do. However, they don’t have a legal obligation to do all that, and when there is a central governing body for a particular sect (Roman Catholicism is the one that springs to mind; I live Quebec, where that’s the dominant faith), they often use the “well, no TRUE (blank)” excuse, while allowing that person to continue being a (blank).  Just for fun, I had a quick look at the list of people excommunicated by the Roman Catholic church during the last two centuries. They include folks who opposed racial desegregation (great!) but who were later let back in (what?!); a nine-year-old girl who had an abortion to end a pregnancy that would probably have killed her and resulted from rape – oddly, they didn’t excommunicate the rapist.

      And you know what? They have that choice. That’s fine. Discontinuing membership of those who violate doctrine is fine. They are, however, not held responsible by their members when they don’t impose such sanctions impartially and universally. A hockey referee is expected to give a two-minute penalty to any player who trips another player; five if blood’s drawn, and they’re kicked out of the game with the expectation of a further disciplinary review if it’s an intentional attempt to cause injury. There are lots of Catholics who opposed racial desegregation, and weren’t excommunicated. I know lots of Catholics who use birth control, also in violation of doctrine, and they’re still members.

      If I or a loved one was harmed by someone who then tried to use an organized sport as a shelter or an excuse; and if that organized sport _provided_ that excuse willingly, and tried to protect that person, I’d have legal recourse against that organized sport.

      Unlike organized sports, religion does not have a neutral outside body holding it accountable. It does not hold ITSELF accountable for its actions, frequently (it’s because of Deityofchoice, you see, not us! Deity’s actions! We’re just doing them on Deity’s behalf!). That’s what I have an issue with.

      • BlazeL

        Excellent rationalizaton for bigotry.  Now, ya got something bigots can use on Jews and Immigrants?

        • Coyotenose

           It’s very telling as to your mental competence that you can’t grasp or else are deliberately ignoring that just his first sentence already shredded your claim. So are you a liar (Jesus must love that) or merely stupid (Jesus definitely loves that)? Your choice.

        • Patterrssonn

          “something bigots can use on Jews” You mean like Christianity?

        • nakedanthropologist

          Dude, you keep repeating “Jews and immigrants”. Either you’re being intentionally obtuse, projecting, or are in desperate need of a nap and some Oreos. Read the other comments and chill out.

        • BenFromCA

          After that very comprehensive explanation, you either don’t get it, which means you’re not terribly bright, or you’re deliberately distorting the argument because the evidence is contrary to your preconceived beliefs, which would make you the bigot.

          How ironic.

      • Coyotenose

         Hockey? Pffft! Play a REAL sport!

        *hands you some Dungeons & Dragons books*

        (it’s because of Deityofchoice, you see, not us! Deity’s actions! We’re just doing them on Deity’s behalf!)

        In a weird way I admire how brilliant this was way back when. By attributing your totalitarian demands to a higher power, you make them difficult to argue against, because the deity making the original claim simply isn’t there to refute and discredit, as an actual person would be.

        • Em

           I play D&D too! Also video games, and badminton. I’m polyrecreational. ;)

          • nakedanthropologist

            D&D: the great Terran past time. Oh, sweet memories…….

    • C Peterson

      I think they call blaming everyone in  a group for the actions of some “bigotry”.

      You’re right. But that’s not happening here. Nobody is being blamed for anybody else’s crimes. What is being challenged here is a belief system (religion) that predisposes people to unethical behavior. That’s completely different from claiming that all religionists are guilty of crimes.

    • Coyotenose

       Point to where you’re being blamed for these things. Don’t forget to check under your persecution complex.

    • BenFromCA

      I almost responded to this sophomoric by pointing out the obvious flaws in JW’s comment, but it looks like others have covered that ground quite nicely.  Maybe you should go a step beyond “just wondering” to “just doing a little outside research” like many of the rest of us who are no longer religious already have.  I doesn’t seem like “just wondering” is doing much good.  Here are a few other thing to “just wonder” about?

      Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

      • cxmiller10

        You’re welcome, Epicurus.

    • nakedanthropologist

      No one here is blaming you or anyone else personally for crimes you have not committed. It’s not like we’re saying that every religious person is bad. However, it is important o be aware that every ideological system has it flaws and abuses within and of those systems. There are many things done in the name of religion – both good and bad. I think context plays a big role in how we as individuals are going to view this video. Since I cannot speak for anyone but myself, illmapply my own context.

      I was raised roman catholic. My parents are Catholic, and they’re both wonderful people who I think make the world just better and brighter (obviously I’m biased :-). I also went to a Catholic elementary school, and it was a horrible experience. We’ve all seen stories in the news where various churches and faiths cover up abuse, do violence towards others, and are hateful in the name of their respective faiths. These events don’t happen in a vacuum: religion is often complicit or driving force. OTOH, religion can also be complicit or a force for good things.

      Do you know how good it feels to find other people who also point out the bad things in religion when you’ve been abused in the name of it? So often in the US we are told that we can’t criticize religious wrongs – that people are only supposed to point out the good. But there are wrongs too, grave atrocities even that can be enabled by certain religious environments. WE NEED TO TAKE ISSUE WITH THESE. It’s not enough to say, “well, they do good too!”. Of course they do – but the bad is also there, and it needs to noticed, called-out, and rectified. That’s why these videos garner wide audiences and are made in the first place. Nobody is trying to pick on you – all we are doing is pointing out that it’s not all sunlight and roses. Many have deeply suffered while in the hands of faith (just as many others have rejoiced and found solace) and action should be taken to look into the dark unflinchingly, harshly, and with brutal honesty towards transgressions, so that (hopefully) others will not have endure the same.

  • Cliffordzellner

    All Bibles are man made

  • BenFromCA

    This is an excellent video, but it’s marred by one production flaw; the background music is sometimes so loud that you can’t make out some of the spoken parts.  Keep it up, though!  This is exactly the kind of video that the clueless “faithful” need to see.

    • Willroma

      What would your reaction be to a similar video showing all the good things that were done because of religion?

      • Patterrssonn

        “Is that all? Hardly makes up for all the nightmarishly evil stuff.”

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        The key word is ‘because’.  How much good work is done in religion’s name that wouldn’t be done otherwise?  When theists point to the good works that religion does, I ask “do you ONLY do that because your religion tells you to, or would you be doing charity work even if you were not told to?”  Invariably I get either an admission that they probably would, or a snark and no real answer.  Ask the same question of all the cases in this video- how many of them would happen if someone didn’t think they were compelled to by their religion?  I’m sure some of them would.  And some are using religion to excuse bad things they’d do anyways.

        But atheism doesn’t tell people to do bad things (or good things).  My personal belief is that most of the good things people do in the name of religion, they’d do anyways.  And a lot (certainly not all) of the bad things they do in the name of religion, they would NOT do WITHOUT their religion telling them to.

        Religion is a divisive force in society.  It creates artificial groups.  Other humans are either in your group, or not.  And those that are not in your group, in most cases, are not seen as equals.  There are a lot of other divisive social forces, like nations languages.  But religion seems to me, as an outsider, to be a wholly artificial and unnecessary one.

      • Bad_homonym

        I would ask for evidence that these things were done ‘because’ of religion. I think in all likelyhood these good, caring, empathetic people would do good deeds in spite of, not because of religion.

        • Pseudonym

          That wouldn’t prove anything, of course. There would still be plenty of evil in the world without religion.

          Stephen Weinberg was pretty definitively proven wrong by Stanley Milgram.

  • Willroma

    If there is a causal relationship between religion and these stories then there is also a causal relationship between religion and many good acts that happened this month.

    I don’t see how this proves anything.

    • C Peterson

      Religion doesn’t produce good acts. Charitable people are charitable whether they are religious or not. There’s no evidence that eliminating religion would reduce acts of goodness at all. On the other hand, there is profound evidence that it would eliminate acts of evil.

      • Willroma

        Talk about a completely blind and onesided mentality. You are right, religion does not produce good acts, people do. Likewise, religion does not produce bad acts, people do. For every person that uses religion to rationalize a bad act, there is another one that uses religion to rationalize a good act. Your attempt to establish causality on oneside of the coin and view a simple correlation on the other is something i would suspect from a fundamnetalist, but i guess there are irrational people on both extremes.

        • Em

          My issue with this particular argument as that we shouldn’t need an excuse to do good things, and we shouldn’t have an excuse to do bad ones. People who need religion as an excuse to do good things aren’t actually being selfless, they’re concerned about afterlife real estate, with beneficial side effects.

          • Willroma

            That rational goes both ways. It is delusional to think that the first story in that video would not have happened, that a father would not beat his son for not doing his homework or reading his bible, if the bible was not present. An abusive parent is an abusive parent, a charitable person isn a charitable person. Its illogical to establish causality in one and ignore it in the other.

            • C Peterson

              An abusive parent is facilitated if his religious views justify that abuse- as Christianity does. There are always going to be marginal abusers who need to be kicked over the edge into actual action. Religion can provide that impetus; lack of religion can’t. The end result is a net negative for the value of religion.

              • Willroma

                I feel like i am having a conversation with a creationist, are you playing devil’s advocate?

                • C Peterson

                  No. Religion is disproportionately a force for bad. It can only bring out negative traits in people, not positive ones. Positive traits will be there with or without religion.

        • C Peterson

          You misunderstand the argument completely. There is no inherent symmetry. There is nothing about religion that uniquely results in positive behavior. There are, however, aspects of religion that uniquely encourage negative behavior.

          The consequences of this are clear: religious people and secular people are equally likely to do good, but religious people are disproportionally inclined to do bad.

          • Willroma

            This is absolute bullshit, once again, spoken like a true fundie, this just proves that there are irrational people on both sides.

            • Bad_homonym

              All I read is logic. By the way, what is an atheist ‘fundy’? There is only one fundamental we share. There is no evidenece of a god, and therefore we dont believe. Generally it is religious folks who try to read more into it, but the fact remains!

              • Pseudonym

                All I read is logic.

                I’ve studied logic. I did my postgrad work partly in logic. I’ve spent a lot of my life working with and understanding logic.

                There was no logic here.

                By the way, what is an atheist ‘fundy’?

                I’m not Willroma, so I can’t speak for him or her. Having said that, you may have missed that Willroma was using a simile. The exact phrase was “spoken like a true fundie” (emphasis added), implying that C Peterson’s argument resembled that of a fundamentalist.

                C Peterson basically claimed that nothing good can be attributed to religion, but plenty of bad can. That’s actually pretty close to a common fundamentalist argument in reverse (God can’t be blamed for anything bad, but can be thanked for much good).

                All comparisons break down at some point, but I think this one was apt. That’s assuming I’m reading Willroma’s remark correctly, of course. If not, I take it all back.

    • Octoberfurst

       As others have already pointed out there are religious people who do good and religious people who do evil. The same is true for non-believers.  But the difference is that often religious people do bad things because they think their religion compells them to. For example, gays get beaten up and demonized simply because a so-called “holy book” says they are an “abomination.”  Children suffer and die from treatable diseases because  the parents rely on prayer instead of modern medicine because they believe that is what the Bibe teaches.  Women are killed in Islamic countries for not dressing properly supposedly because of the teachings of the Koran.  I could go on and on but you get the point.  Nobody does any of those things because their atheism compells them to. We don’t believe in mumbo-jumbo and “holy books.”  THAT is the difference.  

    • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

      Two broad points:
      1) It does challenge the notion that there is a causal relationship between religiosity and moral behavior. You may not believe that, but lots of people do.
      2) Some of these cases are ones that are uniquely problematic for religion. You don’t see atheist parents physically abusing their kids because they couldn’t memorize passages from Dawkins or Hitchens; that’s something that, while certainly not a universal element of religion, can be linked to a religious mindset (e.g. “I have hidden Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You” in the case of Christianity). I agree that it doesn’t say a whole lot that, for instance, pastors and priests are getting caught for sexual abuse (except as stated in #1 above).


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