Yes, some religions (and cultures) are worse than others

Something strange I’ve encountered in online discussions of religion–and what makes it strange is that I’ve encountered it among people who are not in general defenders of religion–is a resistance to accepting that some religions and cultures are worse than others.

For example, here’s Stephen Bond (who wrote a very useful essay on the ad hominem fallacy) in a really bizarre essay where, among other things, he trashes Dawkins for apparently not being hard enough on the Church of England:

And racist trash is what it is. Some Dawkins apologists claim that he is not Islamophobic, but simply a militant atheist combatting the evils of religion wherever he sees them; but Dawkins sees his evils rather selectively. Indeed, he is markedly sympathetic towards the faith of his childhood, the good old C of E — so much so that I suspect the “God Delusion” per se is not his main concern. From his writings, I gather that Dawkins would be content to live in a world where gentle Anglican vicars presided over their bored, civilised congregations in England’s vales and hills, while the British Empire did its dirty work elsewhere, in places like Kenya, India, and West Cork. He saves his real ire for the creeds of the unruly natives — all those nasty Muslims and Catholics and tribalists who don’t know their place. Not that he’d want to associate himself with the bloodshed done in his name. Like a lot of gentle liberals, he hypocritically declared himself against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while continuing to poison the atmosphere in their favour with his hate speech. At least his buddy Christopher Hitchens, for all his thuggery, was consistent enough to follow his views to their logical, and repugnant, conclusion. But then, Hitchens is better aware of what skepticism is.

The Church of England isn’t perfect; it still has issues with women and gays in its priesthood, and no doubt much of its hierarchy continues to cling to supernatural beliefs for which there is no good evidence (my guess is this is not true in all cases, even if the dissenters aren’t too loud about it).

However, it would be foolish not to recognize a few facts: there are no Anglican countries where you can be executed for leaving the local version of the Anglican Church. Nor has the Church of England been involved in enabling child rape on a massive scale, nor has it campaigned against the use of condoms in regions of Africa devastated by the AIDS pandemic.

The sins of the Church of England are peccadilloes compared to such horrors. For Dawkins to ignore such facts would be to do what religious apologists often wrongly accuse atheists of, painting all religions with the same overly broad brush.

And while it may be somewhat difficult to give an overall rating that takes into account all the various pluses and minuses of any given culture, it’s hard to imagine what could balance out the frighteningly widespread support for various forms of religiously-motivated oppression that exists in many Muslim countries.

  • Darren

    Well said. I think of it as triage.

    The church of Cake of Death is pretty low on my threat meter.

    Other low threats: Bahia, Quakers, Buddhists (the Richard Gere type), Unitarians, United Church of Christ, Episcopalians, liberal – secular Muslims, Sikhs, pagans, wiccans, New Agers, etc.

  • tildeb

    The CoE doesn’t offer up little gems like this.

    • Darren

      Well, _that_ is hardly sporting…

      I always assumed they had a bit of a running start, at least, get a bit of exercise in, limber up the throwing arm and all that…

  • MNb

    I don’t see much point in determining which religions are worse and which are better. It’s how the believer puts it in practice thant counts for me, give the many, many interpretations. Then several islam countries rank damn low indeed, together with, somewhat surprising, India (misogyny and also the prosecution of the rationalist with the difficult name, Enil Sadamuraku or something like that). At the other hand the country where I live, Suriname, is also very religious with only 4% atheists. Still coming out is for me no problem at all, unlike in large parts of that big mighty country that sees itself as the champion of freedom.

  • tildeb

    It’s almost as if any person criticizing anything believed (rather than known) is committing a larger infraction than what potentially is being criticized!

    I put this tendency down to post modern, politically correct, relativistic thinking, that there are only relative truths and that all perspectives are equally valid and valuable regardless of real world consequences. It’s just wooly thinking that directly undermines respecting what’s true, what’s knowable, what’s reasonable, what’s probable, what’s right, and what’s ethical, and excuses the exercise of all kinds of harm and anti-human behaviour.

    The exercise of religious belief that produces tyranny, misogyny, and bigotry is a prime target for such well-deserved and important public criticism, but it is not alone. All kinds of woo are need of sustained public criticism… such as homeopathy and naturopathic and alternative therapies, the poor reasons used by proponents of anti-vaccination and conspiratorial theories, new age/ancient suppositions about secretive and mysterious body energies and its health-related flow, and so on. All are not equally valid insights into how reality operates but act as pseudo-conclusions and pseudo-explanations that are to be left alone and above reproach… not because they are demonstrably true but because they are believed to be true as a matter of faith.

    This is the insidious nature of respecting faith-based belief; this expected offering of faux-respect that is used in practice to circumvent the reasonable request for having to show why and how something claimed to be true is actually true, actually producing knowledge, actually working to describe the reality we share. Respecting faith-based belief and dropping this requirement is equivalent to not respecting what’s true. Respecting faith-based belief is equivalent to delegating this truthful aspect as something less valuable than a willingness to believe anything, being so ‘open-minded’ and ‘tolerant’ and ‘accommodating’ that one’s brain falls out. Such ‘tolerant’ thinking assures us of being able to fool ourselves with no means to differentiate conflicting and contrary conclusions produced by faith-based belief versus methods like science that does produce knowledge, does produce demonstrable applications, therapies, and technologies that work for everyone everywhere all the time, that does deepen and expand our understanding of how reality operates.

    In medical terms, we call this inability to differentiate what’s true from what is believed to be true ‘delusional thinking’. It’s a mental disorder. And that’s what advocates for respecting any and all faith-based beliefs suffer from.

    In the final analysis, if someone doesn’t care about what’s true, why should anyone listen to him or her or respect what they have to say about anything?

  • smrnda

    Some religions are *currently* worse than others. If I’m going to fight against worker exploitation, I’d probably want to focus my attention on working conditions in China, not that they’re perfect in the States or elsewhere, just that it would be worth looking at where they are the worst. If you’re going to criticize religion, all of them can or should be criticized, but it’s still worth focusing on the worst offenders. I mean, criticisms are often made of atheists who focus on Christianity because they aren’t criticizing Islam, so this is likely to go both ways.

    Also, criticizing Islam doesn’t mean that you automatically think blowing up people in Muslim countries is a good thing.