Beware Religious Leaders in Times of Tragedy

They’re always quick to point fingers at people who — coincidentally, I’m sure — just happen to believe something differently from them.

And David Hayward responds so eloquently with his drawings:

And this older one:

Right now, the only thing you can say is that we don’t know who planted the Boston bombs or why they did it. To speculate otherwise is just irresponsible. To speculate when millions of gullible people take you seriously is just despicable.

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.

  • Rain

    I tend to be more cynical and I don’t think theology has much to do with it. There’s a reason why they send melodramatic fliers in the mail that scare people, and then the punch line is when they pressure them into sending in money. There’s a reason why they call people under the pretense of taking a poll and then when it gets to the punch line they pressure them for money. There’s a reason why they have online petitions for people to sign, and then when they sign them they have to give them their email addresses and phone numbers, and then later they get calls and emails that, wait for it…. wait… pressure them into donating money. And that reason is… pie! Just kidding, the reason is they want mo’ money.

  • Tom Fox

    I agree that there is no reason to reflexively blame this bombing on a theology at this time. I remember the bombing of Oklahoma City-a number of high-profile media types jumped right to Islam as the culprit, and he turned out to be a redneck with a rental truck full of ANFO. Let us wait for the investigation and tend to the wounded right now.

  • SeekerLancer

    Fear is a major tool of religion, I dare say the primary recruitment and retention tool, and there’s no better time for them to strike than when people are afraid.

    Also what better time to represent/advertise this Christian love thing we don’t often see applied to social issues? Don’t get me wrong, if it’s a person’s religion that motivates them to help out then good for them, though they shouldn’t need a reason.

  • newavocation

    Just once instead of praying I would like to see a discussion on the root causes of terrorism and what WE do or don’t do that contributes to this behavior.

  • Bubba Tarandfeathered

    The bomber is an animal! Oh wait we are all animals, ah shoot nvm.

  • Kevin Sevcik

    Not to lighten up anyone’s morning, but is anyone else reading the second cartoon as “increasingly stupid theological explanations cause increasing suffering?” I mean, the stupid arguments are canonically the controlled variable there…

  • busterggi

    Tragedy draws religious leaders like blood drives draw vampires except vampires don’t exis and would be less dangerous.

  • James Lindsay

    From what I’m reading in the psychology of religion, this phenomenon speaks to several of the fundamental needs people have that seem to cause them to be religious in the first place. You’ll notice that these overlap.

    1. Attribution: People want to be able to place blame. Religions are never particularly cautious about making sure what they say is true before they say it, so blaming outsiders and others is particularly easy. Indeed, NoTrueScotsmanning is rather a feature of religion anyway, so even if it were an insider, they can still attribute it to an “other.” Attribution also gives a sense of meaning to the event: it happened for a (cosmic/magical/higher/whatever) purpose–it wasn’t just a random terrible event that was senseless.

    2. Control: The primary purpose of prayer in these situations is to feel as if they are able to get some control over a situation that they have no control over. Of course, prayer doesn’t succeed in changing the world, but it does seem to be a “system hack” that allows people to feel they’re in a situation that is better under control (often by giving that control away to a divine power that is in control). I’m not entirely sure if or how this one ties into the phenomenon at the center of this piece, except that pastors will want to go to whatever lengths to remind people that it’s a scary world and that their God is in control since that’s one of the central features of the psychological need at the bottom of their collective fairy tale.

    3. Esteem: People get to feel good about caring and engaging in symbolic acts of concern and aid. There’s also the attribution/othering factor here, where people get to feel morally superior to whatever outgroup actually did this kind of thing. This is easier when the evildoers can be named, particularly if they’re already “enemies.”

    4. Sociality: People come together under their faiths in times like this, and the common-enemy theme pulls them in pretty strongly. Pastors may or may not realize what they’re doing when they use that tool, even if they’re more liberal and cautious and just call the “enemy” a vague evil or sense thereof, but they’re doing it nonetheless.

  • C Peterson

    On the second chart, I appreciate the fact that the severity of suffering can be zero, but the stupidity of religious arguments is always greater than one. I also agree with Kevin Sevcik that the axes might be better swapped, making suffering the independent variable- although, a case might be made for the opposite, as well.

  • C Peterson

    I’m pretty sure that praying (or the mindset of one who prays) is one of the root causes of terrorism. (Not the only one, of course.)

  • chicago dyke

    not that i wholly disagree, but let’s not forget: racism. it’s so much more palatable to the fundies and the right if they can blame Scary Brown People who don’t speak jeebus’ English like in the Buybull. for everything! and if not brown furriners, brown americans who aren’t “real” americans.

    in the end it may come down to money, and fear driven religious belief surely plays an important role, but racism is right up there in this pernicious mix.

  • Rain

    Sadly the entire history of humanity does support your theory! Can’t argue with it.

  • Jan Kafka