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.

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