Organized Religion: The Source of Evil?

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Organized Religion: The Source of Evil?

Postby ArcticFox » Wed Oct 08, 2014 4:36 pm

I had backed off from debates but something has been pounding inside my skull demanding release and so I step into the arena.

This may honk off some folks. Sorry in advance.

I recently watched the video Arch posted and in that video Hitchens talks about organized religion (and to a lesser extent, region in general) being the cause of the bad stuff in the world. I've heard that said by a lot of people a lot of times in a lot of places and I've never agreed, but it wasn't until recently that I understood WHY I disagreed.

The answer is simple. It's because the way any religion is implemented is a direct reflection of the culture behind it. This is true of ALL denominations, sects and factions of ALL religions throughout ALL of human history.

Yes, I include my own religion, and yours, in that statement.

As Christians, we like to approach it as if Christianity has been completely consistent and the same throughout its existence, and that examples of evils committed by our religion merely represent aberrations of fringe elements who hijack our belief and do evil with it.

That isn't true.

Sorry, but it's not.

What's true is that cultures are the driving force behind the behavior of adherents of religion. Don't believe me? We've all been reading the same Bible for centuries, and while there are different translations and sometimes different books included in it, it's basically the same. So why has Christianity at various times been aggressive, passive, expansionist, isolationist, warlike, pacifist? Because the culture practicing it was.

In the video, Hitchens blames Christianity for the Holocaust because of a verse in the Bible saying the blood of Jesus was on the Jewish people. If it were truly Christianity to blame, then all Christians, at all times, everywhere ought to hate Jews, shouldn't they?

But we don't. Our Bibles have the same verse the Nazis' Bibles had, and yet we're not making anybody wear armbands.

The early Spanish Conquistadors and their followers massacred entire nations and wiped away ancient religions in the name of Jesus Christ. Was it Christianity at fault, or was it the culture that justified such atrocities? And if you want to say it was the religion, then why don't we still do it? Why haven't Crusader armies from Christian nations launched all out attacks on infidels worldwide?

Because it's the culture.

The same is true of Islam. The Koran is no more warlike and inflammatory than the Bible is, and yet Muslims are known to be much more likely to commit acts of terrorism and forced conversion than Christianity. Is it because Islam is evil, or is it because its practiced mostly in a part of the world where the culture itself is aggressive, xenophobic and hostile?

Think about it. Are there peaceful Muslims, even Muslim nations at peace? Yes, there are. Not hard to find either. Look at Indonesia, an Islamic nation that guarantees freedom of religion (to specific religions, anyway) where it's not at all uncommon to find a church, a mosque and a synagogue side by side. The Unites States has also achieved this blending. (Although it is rockier here because of the events of the last few decades.)

Why? Because that was the culture at the time those scriptures were written, and we know it on some subconscious level. We don't like to articulate that because it makes Christianity seem fluid, inconsistent, and that exposes it to criticism from others. (Or at least we feel like it does.) More on that in a moment.

There are verses in the Bible that can be used to justify all sorts of things we'd consider to be wrong, and Christians have taken great pains to try to reconcile this. Killed any witches lately? Stoned any homosexuals to death? Forced any women to cover their heads in church? To shut them up? Of course not, and none of us here would argue that Christianity teaches us to do these things, and yet directives to do so can be found right there in the scriptures.

So when you're trying to point the finger of blame when thinking about things like September 11, or the Salem Witch Trials, or the Holocaust, etc. Does it make sense to blame a religion, or the culture of the people doing it? Because if you want to blame Christianity for things like the witch trials or the holocaust, you're basically asserting that every single sincere Christian is just one law change away from becoming a mass murderer.

I don't think very many people honestly believe that, and yet rhetoric like Hitchens' says exactly that.

Why? Because that was the culture at the time those scriptures were written, and we know it on some subconscious level. We don't like to articulate that because it makes Christianity seem fluid, inconsistent, and that exposes it to criticism from others. (Or at least we feel like it does.) But here's the most important question: Does this invalidate religion? Many say yes, but I think it's because they're approaching it too simplistically. I'll use my own denomination to make this point. Do I believe Brigham Young was a prophet of God? Yes I do. Do I believe he was a true Christian? Yes I do.

But he was also not a perfect man. He was militant. He was a racist. He didn't set a very good example of what polygamy was supposed to be (55 wives, jack. Count 'em.) Doesn't mean the Church isn't true or that God isn't real. It means that sometimes, human beings just suck at being human beings. More often than not, when human beings are doing nasty things, they look to justify it somehow, make it seem moral, and the fountain of morality for 99% of the people in history is their religion. So they go to their Bible, their Koran, their Torah, and they find some verses that can be used in some way to justify their actions, and off they go. Individuals do it, nations do it, cultures do it.

Organized Religion is just a red herring. Nazis killed Jews because they needed a scapegoat on their way into power for all the bad things Germany was experiencing in the aftermath of WWI, and with a majority Christian population in Germany they used the Bible to justify themselves. They didn't do what they did because they thought God wanted them to. Mao and Stalin killed their own people by the millions and they didn't use religion to justify it. People can be evil on a massive scale with or without religion, so it makes no sense to me to think that somehow religion is the cause of the world's ills.

The underlying spiritual message, the truth of religion is in no way a source of evil. It's a beautiful thing that inspires us to be better than what we are. It gives us hope, faith, and a sense of spirituality that humans crave. Very rarely is religion truly to blame for bad behavior by people, it just usually gets a bad rap precisely because people use it to justify themselves. Some cultures implement it well, and it drives them to excel.

Was it Christianity or culture that inspired the abolition of slavery in the United States? Was it Christianity or culture that preserved scientific literature and texts through the Dark Ages after the Roman Empire fell? Was it Islam or culture that provided an environment that was stable and peaceful enough in the Middle Ages to bring forth huge advances in mathematics and astronomy? Was it Judaism or culture that brought monotheism to the center stage and a higher level of spiritual enlightenment to the cultures of the Bronze Age?

Maybe the two factors feed off each other and drive the achievements even higher. Just as religion can be used to motivate people to do evil, it can also be used to motivate them to do great things. I would argue that it can take us to extremes in both directions.

But the core of every organized religion is one of goodness, morality and order. That tips the scale forward, in my view.
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"Don't take refuge in the false security of consensus."
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Re: Organized Religion: The Source of Evil?

Postby ArchAngel » Wed Oct 08, 2014 8:09 pm

Going right up to the elephant in the room and punching him in the face.
I like it.
Elephants shouldn't think they can walk into a room unnoticed.

As a.. mmm, not warning, that sounds presumptuous, but a note: I'm not pulling punches on this one. The topic is straightforward, so I'm gunning straight for religion, Christianity included.

So, yes, religion is a reflection of the culture behind it. Kind of. It's also an influencing factor, and that makes this complex. Yay!

So, already, this is where I'm going to disagree with your analysis. You start by treating religion as almost culturally benign, a way to look into a culture, but not guilty of any wrong-doings that are perpetuated there. A point you, seemingly conveniently, concede when talking about all the good religion can do. Maybe I'm just not fully understanding you, but I don't see how you can have it both ways. If religion wants to take credit for good, it has to be able to be blamed for evil. Either religion is benign or it's not. And I would put emphatically that it's not. Beliefs matter.

While this is not an exclusive definition of religion, it is, at it's core, a set of beliefs and teachings that binds a group of people. Some teachings might benefit people, and some can hurt them. In this sense, it puts it pretty close to politics, even nationalism. But there is one quality to religion that makes it unique to any other set of beliefs: it is non-verifiable. Even politics has to stand up to evidence; it makes claims about what will happen in the real world and will inevitably be judged by it. But not religion, religion makes claims on the observable and makes predictions after death. It literally sets itself to never be proved wrong, which maximizes it's life and staying power. Right here, is the real problem with religion.

Through evidence, you can begin to find which ideas work better than others. Which helps more people, and which ones hurt more people. Religion mostly only subsides on what the people thought at the time of codification and regressive and hurtful ideas subside long after their time has gone. After all, there is no method of verification. It is what it is.

This inability to verify claims also provides a terminus to exploration and discovery. You don't ask questions if the answers were already provided. This is not saying that religious people can't do science; some of our greatest scientists were religious, but their religion has also stifled their progress. Isaac Newton, one of the greatest minds, spent more time writing religious text than scientific work, obsessed with biblical codes. Imagine what other works would have been done if he kept searching in science?

This unverifiable set of beliefs has a darker edge. Even if religious teachings teetered 50/50 on good teachings and poor teachings, there's one that pushes it over. People don't need an excuse to do good. There is no good in the world that requires religion. People do, however, need an excuse to do evil. Even if you go ahead and write off all those evils you mentioned as "not actually religion," there's a reason why these things keep popping up. Religion is the perfect vessel for evil. Politics and Nationalism often work to this degree, but don't have the staying power that religion does.
Good deeds should be demonstrably good. They should help people. They should provide benefits to both individuals and society. There are also demonstrably evil acts that hurt those around. But to convince generations to do evil as if it were good, you need provide them a set of unverifiable teachings they hold above all else.

All of this, I haven't even talked about specifics. You raised umbrage with what Hitchens said of religion, but he didn't make things up. People performed female circumcision because of religion. Shoot, people perform male circumcision because of religion. People commit violence because someone drew an insulting cartoon of their prophet. People justified slavery through religion. People commit genocide because their religion called for it. People flew planes into skyscrapers and blew up schools because of religion. Fathers killed their daughters because their religion demanded it of them. Women who were gang raped are executed because they were alone with another man. Gay children are being isolated, kicked out of their homes, or worse... because of religion. This not a hypothetical. These are real people who truly believe in their religion and perform very real actions because of it. These happen today. These are actual beliefs that motivate action. Not a scapegoat or an excuse. Real, acted upon beliefs. We need to treat these as real things. If you want to pretend for one second that your religion can have a positive impact on this world, you have better start taking some of these very evil beliefs seriously. They are not just excuses. These people are just waiting for an excuse to do bizarre actions like female genital mutilation, or killing their daughter. They are motivated by their religious beliefs.

All these beliefs exist and are protected under the framework provided by religion: a unverifiable, and required set of beliefs. Religion is, at the end, an expression of man. It takes some of our highest aspirations and some of our darkest and sinister desires and codifies it. The thing, you don't need the framework of religion to propagate good ideas, but it seems you need it, or something very similar, to propagate the bad ones. I could not assign religion such a metaphysical position as the source of evil, but it is a catalyst of evil.

On top of this, one of the biggest powers of religion for good and evil is it's ability to bind people together. It creates tight communities, and as I mentioned in my subject on out-grouping, this binding brings people together, but it also polarizes. Why do you think the Sunnis and the Shiites are killing each other?
The underlying spiritual message, the truth of religion is in no way a source of evil. It's a beautiful thing that inspires us to be better than what we are. It gives us hope, faith, and a sense of spirituality that humans crave.
Absolutely not. The very basis of religion is a required belief in unverifiable ideas, already a bad start, and submission to either these ideas or an unverifiable entity.
It's hard for me to talk about other religions, because I simply don't have the indepth knowledge as I do with Christianity, so let's go and see how Christianity is messed up at it's core. Also, Christianity, today, sets itself up as the religion of love, so, let's look at the stark contrast what it's actual claims are.
To be a christian, you hold at the very core, that you and all humans are fundamentally bad. Flawed. Evil. Incapable of good, and destined and deserving of torture that inflicts more pain than you can imagine for longer than you can imagine. Oh, you don't want that? You want to be good? Well, you need to accept these sets of beliefs and completely submit your will and life over to this unobservable entity. Oh, and did I mention, this entity made you this way, too. But God loves you.
This is not beautiful. This is not good. It's sick. The only way someone can actually believe it is good is because they have to.

I challenge you, give me one good thing that is required through religion.
Pew Pew Pew. Science.

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Re: Organized Religion: The Source of Evil?

Postby ccgr » Wed Oct 08, 2014 9:48 pm

I challenge you, give me one good thing that is required through religion.
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Re: Organized Religion: The Source of Evil?

Postby ArchAngel » Wed Oct 08, 2014 10:02 pm

Not only possible without religion, a very common moral position.

I should probably apologize, my challenge was poorly worded.
What's a moral trait or value that can only be realized or achieve through religion?
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Re: Organized Religion: The Source of Evil?

Postby ArcticFox » Wed Oct 08, 2014 10:25 pm

Going right up to the elephant in the room and punching him in the face.
I like it.
Elephants shouldn't think they can walk into a room unnoticed.
That's right. Sometimes, ya gotta put Jumbo right in his place. :D
So, already, this is where I'm going to disagree with your analysis. You start by treating religion as almost culturally benign, a way to look into a culture, but not guilty of any wrong-doings that are perpetuated there. A point you, seemingly conveniently, concede when talking about all the good religion can do. Maybe I'm just not fully understanding you, but I don't see how you can have it both ways. If religion wants to take credit for good, it has to be able to be blamed for evil. Either religion is benign or it's not. And I would put emphatically that it's not. Beliefs matter.
Well, I did acknowledge that the good things claimed by religion can be purely cultural as well.

With that said, I'll concede that evil is sometimes committed in the name of religion, but my argument is that it's generally done by people who were predisposed to evil anyway, and use the worst elements of a religion to justify what they're doing and call it "righteousness." For instance, when the early Caliphs were conquering North Africa and Southeastern Europe in the name of Allah, were they doing it because of their belief in God, or because they wanted power and wealth? People make that accusation against the Crusades (the early ones were a reaction to this conquest) but rarely about the conquerors that triggered them. No doubt the individual footsoldiers were led to believe that they were acting righteously, but that has more to do with being used by the higher-ups than an inherent flaw in the belief system.
While this is not an exclusive definition of religion, it is, at it's core, a set of beliefs and teachings that binds a group of people. Some teachings might benefit people, and some can hurt them. In this sense, it puts it pretty close to politics, even nationalism. But there is one quality to religion that makes it unique to any other set of beliefs: it is non-verifiable. Even politics has to stand up to evidence; it makes claims about what will happen in the real world and will inevitably be judged by it. But not religion, religion makes claims on the observable and makes predictions after death. It literally sets itself to never be proved wrong, which maximizes it's life and staying power. Right here, is the real problem with religion.
Well, of course that's the result you'll get when you try to use a scientific mentality to a non-scientific entity. As I've said in the past, science and religion are tools used for entirely different uses. You may as well be trying to use a screwdriver to remove a lugnut and then blame the lugnut for not coming off of the car. Religion isn't science. Never was, and every single time someone attempts to use one to solve problems suited to the other, you get trouble. Saying religion is false because science can't verify it is as meaningless as saying scientific theories are false because they're not supported by the Bible.
Through evidence, you can begin to find which ideas work better than others. Which helps more people, and which ones hurt more people. Religion mostly only subsides on what the people thought at the time of codification and regressive and hurtful ideas subside long after their time has gone. After all, there is no method of verification. It is what it is.
I don't think the historical record, if taken as evidence, proves that point either way. You can point to atrocities performed in the name of some god or another, but that doesn't prove whether it was indeed a religion that drove it, or was merely the vehicle for justifying it. Consider 9/11. If the goal behind it were truly a way to try and convert more people to Islam, then it boogered up that task about as thoroughly as it is possible in the annals of epic F*ups. And it's not like that couldn't be anticipated. It was perpetrated by leaders who were in love with their own legend and carried out by brainwashed dupes. You don't need religion for that, good or bad. The Nazis were the same way (boom, Godwin) and didn't use religion as a feature of their political philosophy.
This inability to verify claims also provides a terminus to exploration and discovery. You don't ask questions if the answers were already provided. This is not saying that religious people can't do science; some of our greatest scientists were religious, but their religion has also stifled their progress. Isaac Newton, one of the greatest minds, spent more time writing religious text than scientific work, obsessed with biblical codes. Imagine what other works would have been done if he kept searching in science?
I don't blame religion for that. I blame the falsehood that the two are interchangeable.

Besides, it's not exactly fair to assume Newton would have done oodles of other scientific things if nasty old religion hadn't gotten in the way. Lack of evidence isn't evidence.

Even if I were to concede that idea (and I don't) then I would also point out that a great many spiritual thinkers have encumbered themselves with the foolish idea that spiritual beliefs had to be provable scientifically in order to have any value.
This unverifiable set of beliefs has a darker edge. Even if religious teachings teetered 50/50 on good teachings and poor teachings, there's one that pushes it over. People don't need an excuse to do good. There is no good in the world that requires religion. People do, however, need an excuse to do evil. Even if you go ahead and write off all those evils you mentioned as "not actually religion," there's a reason why these things keep popping up. Religion is the perfect vessel for evil. Politics and Nationalism often work to this degree, but don't have the staying power that religion does.
Good deeds should be demonstrably good. They should help people. They should provide benefits to both individuals and society. There are also demonstrably evil acts that hurt those around. But to convince generations to do evil as if it were good, you need provide them a set of unverifiable teachings they hold above all else.
I would argue the opposite. By the logic you're presenting, one would expect religion to always devolve into corruption by its very nature. Yet, this is not what we see. Christianity has been an entity for two thousand years. Is the state of Christianity today better or worse than it was in the beginning? How about a thousand years ago? 500 years ago?
All of this, I haven't even talked about specifics. You raised umbrage with what Hitchens said of religion, but he didn't make things up. People performed female circumcision because of religion.
People also have provided voluntary medical care to those very same people because of religion. In any case, physical mutilation of women is hardly unique to religious systems. Ever read up on the terrible things Chinese women have been made to do to their feet in order to appear more dainty and feminine?
Shoot, people perform male circumcision because of religion.
And strictly cultural reasons. Can't parse religion out separately as if it were unique this way. My religion doesn't give a fig about circumcision one way or the other but that didn't stop me from having it done for all 3 of my sons. In the old days, men who were assigned to guard harems were castrated to prevent them from dallying with the women, and not from any religious prompting.
People commit violence because someone drew an insulting cartoon of their prophet.
People commit violence because their hockey team got spanked on home ice 3 - 0. Besides, your example is from *A* religion (Islam) which supports my comments about it being cultural. Christians get annoyed when Jesus Christ is lampooned, but nobody's out there calling for beheadings over it. (Otherwise the entire production staff at South Park would have been dead years ago.)
People justified slavery through religion.
And yet religion didn't cause it to exist in the first place. Meanwhile, religion was the driving force behind abolishing slavery.
People commit genocide because their religion called for it.
They also commit it because they want land or gold or a scapegoat. I don't even have to invoke Godwin on this one.
People flew planes into skyscrapers and blew up schools because of religion.
They've also blown up Federal Buildings, battleships and entire cities for entirely secular reasons.
Fathers killed their daughters because their religion demanded it of them.
Mothers kill their unborn children every single day without any prompting from religion to do so. Meanwhile religion is trying to put a stop to it.
Women who were gang raped are executed because they were alone with another man.
Is that somehow morally worse than women being gang raped and murdered because they were unfortunate enough to be in a town occupied by an invading army?
Gay children are being isolated, kicked out of their homes, or worse... because of religion.
Homosexuals haven't historically had a particularly easy time in quite a number of cultures, religious or otherwise.
This not a hypothetical. These are real people who truly believe in their religion and perform very real actions because of it. These happen today. These are actual beliefs that motivate action. Not a scapegoat or an excuse. Real, acted upon beliefs. We need to treat these as real things. If you want to pretend for one second that your religion can have a positive impact on this world, you have better start taking some of these very evil beliefs seriously. They are not just excuses. These people are just waiting for an excuse to do bizarre actions like female genital mutilation, or killing their daughter. They are motivated by their religious beliefs.
The examples I listed to riposte yours demonstrate that human beings can be awful without any prompting from religion. Do you think that if religion vanished overnight that atrocities would vanish with it? Stalin tried to enforce an entirely atheistic and secular society and a lot of people died in the process. Meanwhile, that same leader is responsible for the death of over 20M Russians during the reorganization.
All these beliefs exist and are protected under the framework provided by religion: a unverifiable, and required set of beliefs. Religion is, at the end, an expression of man. It takes some of our highest aspirations and some of our darkest and sinister desires and codifies it. The thing, you don't need the framework of religion to propagate good ideas, but it seems you need it, or something very similar, to propagate the bad ones. I could not assign religion such a metaphysical position as the source of evil, but it is a catalyst of evil.
Oh evil can be propagated just fine without religion to be involved. See Stalin. See Mao. See Hitler. (Boom. Godwin x 3 triple bonus) I can give you 3 examples of people who are responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people without a shred of religion behind it. They, and their cronies believed in whatever they believed in (and/or were brainwashed) and millions paid the price. All that in just the last century. Want to go back farther? We can talk about conquerors who caused the deaths of tens, hundreds of thousands with no religious motives. Napoleon, Gengis Khan, Marcus Aurelius, Alexander III of Macedonia, Xerxes. How many more examples would you like?
On top of this, one of the biggest powers of religion for good and evil is it's ability to bind people together. It creates tight communities, and as I mentioned in my subject on out-grouping, this binding brings people together, but it also polarizes. Why do you think the Sunnis and the Shiites are killing each other?
It's justified by Islamic differences, of course. Is that the real, underlying reason? Possibly. It might also be just another in a long and bloody series of ethnic wars. Think the Sioux and Pawnee tribes made war on each other over differences in how they dealt with the Sky God?
Absolutely not. The very basis of religion is a required belief in unverifiable ideas, already a bad start, and submission to either these ideas or an unverifiable entity.
Yeah that lugnut really sucks because I can't remove it with a screwdriver.
It's hard for me to talk about other religions, because I simply don't have the indepth knowledge as I do with Christianity, so let's go and see how Christianity is messed up at it's core. Also, Christianity, today, sets itself up as the religion of love, so, let's look at the stark contrast what it's actual claims are.
To be a christian, you hold at the very core, that you and all humans are fundamentally bad. Flawed. Evil. Incapable of good, and destined and deserving of torture that inflicts more pain than you can imagine for longer than you can imagine. Oh, you don't want that? You want to be good? Well, you need to accept these sets of beliefs and completely submit your will and life over to this unobservable entity. Oh, and did I mention, this entity made you this way, too. But God loves you.
Let me stop you there. Some Christian sects teach that idea, not all. Mine sure doesn't. What you're describing is something I personally find to be revolting. I'm not going to defend it.

That said, at least the goal is to produce people who want to strive to be better than who they are, to achieve goodness even if they believe themselves to be corrupt. How is that a bad thing?
This is not beautiful. This is not good. It's sick. The only way someone can actually believe it is good is because they have to.
I can't comment on that specific doctrine in the context of your comment here, but the same religion you're condemning has inspired people to do amazing and beautiful things. Think of all the church-based charities providing food, education, medicine, medical care, etc. all over the world, including warzones and regions of crushing poverty. You can say people would do that anyway even without religion but I can hold up a mirror and remind you that all the evils you listed exist without it too. Religion may be flawed and imperfect, but at least its adherents aspire to be better than they are.
I challenge you, give me one good thing that is required through religion.
This question cones across as a trap, because I'm betting whatever I say you'll respond with an argument that says you can have it without religion. (Basically, the same approach I took to respond to your comments about religion and evil.)

But I'll respond anyway in that I'll concede this: Religion isn't an absolute requirement for any good thing a person can do in a mortal context. In other words, people are capable of being noble, selfless and generous even if they don't have a religion. Now, will you concede that religion is also not a requirement for people to be evil, selfish and cruel?

What religion does, what a GOOD religion does, is it provides a framework for people to learn to become good. It is a structure by which we improve ourselves that extends beyond "because it's good for the community." Sure, there can be a selfish element that gets tapped into "Do good works so you lay up your treasures in Heaven" but at least that's a way to channel selfishness into a nobler cause.

How many people have been kept from starvation because of Christian relief organizations? How many people can read because of Christians setting up schools in impoverished parts of the world? How many free hospitals exist because they're funded by churches? Sure, secular organizations and groups can do it too, but they don't to the extent that churches do. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Mormon relief trucks were there a lot faster than the Federal Government was.
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Re: Organized Religion: The Source of Evil?

Postby Sstavix » Thu Oct 09, 2014 6:13 am

I've heard the statement about religion being the source of evil before as well, and I find it laughable that the concept could even be considered. The statement alone consists of a logical fallacy if approached from an atheistic viewpoint.

Let's go ahead and presume that religion - whether organized or not (since, presumably, religion preceded organized religion) - is the source of evil. That would indicate that, logically, before religion, there was no evil. I'm pretty sure that this wasn't the case, and I can show evidence for that using SCIENCE! Or, more precisely, biology.

Human beings are, for the most part, pretty much selfish jerks. They want anything they can hold on to, and want to keep it secure. Thing is, this is pretty much consistent amongst a good portion of the animal kingdom. Animals are territorial, protecting their boundaries, hoarding their food, driving off scavengers who are trying to nibble at their kills, and that sort of thing. Males will drive off weaker males for the best pick - or the most - females to mate with. So it isn't inconsistent at all for humans - let's call them the "natural man" - to have such similar behavior.

So would you call tripping grandma and running away from a pack of lions an evil act? What about keeping all the food for yourself and letting the weak or starving fend for themselves (or feed off your scraps after you were done)? How about ostracizing or exiling another person just because they looked different or acted in a way inconsistent to what you viewed as "normal" behavior? Are these "evil" acts? Because they are pretty commonplace behaviors among animals. So I have a feeling that these "evil" actions preceded the invention of religion.

Unless you're arguing for moral relativism - the notion that morality doesn't exist, and that "good" and "evil" are simply illusions to keep society in check - it's pretty clear that humans being jerks to each other predates the invention of religion. So does religion predate the introduction of mankind to Earth? I certainly don't see any atheists arguing that point!

So the statement is a logical fallacy. Religion - organized or not - did not create evil behaviors in people. Therefore, evil must have stemmed from a different source entirely. But where?

Personally, I think that the source of evil stems from ourselves. As I mentioned before, it's part of our inherent behavior - part of our being as a "natural man" - to be inherently mistrusting of things or entities that are not like us. Maybe even fearful. As I've indicated in a lengthy discussion with Chozon1 in my "Ask the Members" thread, I'm of the mindset that our perceptions of reality are severely limited by our individual mindsets. We have no idea of experiencing life from another person's body because we are not in their bodies. Since we can't slip into someone else's skin and brain, we have to rely on our own senses, perceptions and experiences to decipher the world around us. And part of our nature is to repel those that are different from ourselves. It's in our biology, so to speak.

So, depending on which approach you want to take, these evil influences can stem from a variety of things. Religion says it's an external, supernatural source, like Satan or Loki. Science offers psychological or sociological theories, like phrenology or global warming or whatever theory seems to be prevalent at the time. Finding a way to deal with these "evil" influences also is focused on by religion (e.g. Commandments or rules to live by that the higher being(s) dictate are good) and science (education, "re-education," drugs). And, should someone subscribe to the "good, moral" behavior, then those that do so will be rewarded! Because being rewarded is a great motivator for people to do good things and follow the rules - in fact a good portion of our economy is focused on that. (Do a good job and get a paycheck. Do a great job and get a raise!) So religion offers an incentive to be good - namely, a pleasant existence in some form of afterlife. And atheism offers... um... erm...

In my opinion, this is the biggest failing of that belief system. What does atheism offer to those that behave themselves, play by the rules and strive to do good? The satisfaction that they've made humanity better? Half the time I can't stand even being on the same planet as the majority of humans. I especially feel that way after watching some of those "man on the street" interviews or, if I prefer it without a laugh track, election results. So that's not much of a motivator. To make the world a better place? If that's my motivation, I can likely come up with a dozen reasons to morally justify mass murder in order to achieve that result. (I actually do that quite often - it makes for effective villains in my stories :wink: The best villains are the one who believe the horrific things they do are genuinely driven by altruistic actions.)

So there you go - a good thing that religion offers that atheism doesn't. An offering of a reward that appeals to the natural man inside all of us if we play by the rules and try to do good. Sure, it may be a rather self-centered, selfish motivator, but since we spend a good portion of our time thinking about ourselves in the first place, it works. If anything, learning to be compassionate, generous and even self-sacrificing are lessons that need to be taught to us - to try and get us to act against our natural inclinations of self-preservation. Yes, there are other things than religion that can teach us that... but only religion offers the promise of a tangible reward if we do so. Even if it's not a reward we'll gain in this world, it's one we will earn eventually.

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Re: Organized Religion: The Source of Evil?

Postby ArcticFox » Thu Oct 09, 2014 1:10 pm

Clearly, Sstavix has a considerably higher Wis score than I do.
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Re: Organized Religion: The Source of Evil?

Postby Sstavix » Thu Oct 09, 2014 2:55 pm

Clearly, Sstavix has a considerably higher Wis score than I do.
I don't know about that, but I'm pretty sure your Int score stomps mine to the ground. ;)

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Re: Organized Religion: The Source of Evil?

Postby ccgr » Thu Oct 09, 2014 3:15 pm

*moved to Table Top RPGs*

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Re: Organized Religion: The Source of Evil?

Postby ArchAngel » Thu Oct 09, 2014 4:05 pm

Bronon:
No, when specific teachings in religion lead to harm, you can't write it off as "in the name of." It has actively led to evil. Nor can you immediately assume that the higher-ups don't care about the religion and are just simply con-men. They can be duped into it just as well. In fact, they just about always are. That's the nature of religion, it creates a set of beliefs that one must simply accept. No verification. Religion perpetuates these evils. Not blamed for it. Not a scape goat. Perpetuates.

Again, if you want to even begin crediting religion for all the good it teaches people, it's evil teachings need to be acknowledged. You can't do one without the other.

I'm going to continually reject your claim that religion is "another tool," you're going to have to demonstrate how it is one. I haven't even been talking about science, if you someone makes a truth claim, it should be verifiable. This is a fundamental. If you can't show that it's true, how is it one bit useful? This "tool" literally does nothing. It's just a salesman claiming the work is already done.
And when various religions around the world, all using the same "tools," come up with radically different and mutually exclusive positions, one begins to suspect it's all bull.
Spoiler:
It is.
Shoot, people perform male circumcision because of religion.
And strictly cultural reasons.
No. It was propagated by the Bible. The doctor who claimed it was healthy and sanitary.. religious reasons. It's cultural now because of religious reasons.

I didn't think I had to do this, but apparently I do.
Nobody is claiming that religion is the sole source of evil. Pointing out other evils in the world literally means nothing. It's irrelevant and a red herring.
And, I probably should say this to. Nobody is saying religion is purely evil.

And no, the framework of religion is terrible. Beliefs that must be accepted without evidence is a poor structure, even if the teachings are good.

Brozilla:
Nobody is saying that religion is the originating source of evil. In fact, I specifically stated it wasn't. Textbook Strawman.
Religion can be a source of evil for people, but it's only that way because someone before made it that way. My claim is that it catalyzes evil. People have some harmful tendencies and they make their way into it, and because these teachings must be accepted, they perpetuate far longer than they should.

These very rewards you so credit to religion as "making people good" often turn out to make people very evil. It gets people to commit acts they would never normally do, because now they think it adds to their afterlife, and it systematically resists weeding out these evil teachings. Also provides a system very easily used to manipulate people, as it demands obedience for rewards a person will not see in this life. Yeah, this is something atheism doesn't do.

You know why? Because atheism is the lack of a belief in a god. It's not a religion. It never claims to be. The only people who ever claim atheism is a religion are religious people, who... I guess want to invalidate it by saying it's like their beliefs? Atheism can't take credit for good or evil in people's life because it's not a set of teachings. It's a de facto position. If you haven't been convinced by any religion, turns out, you're an atheist. Other ethical systems will have to take credit/blame for morality, because those are the ones that make claims.
moral relativism - the notion that morality doesn't exist, and that "good" and "evil" are simply illusions to keep society in check
Not the same thing.
Half the time I can't stand even being on the same planet as the majority of humans. I especially feel that way after watching some of those "man on the street" interviews or, if I prefer it without a laugh track, election results. So that's not much of a motivator. To make the world a better place? If that's my motivation, I can likely come up with a dozen reasons to morally justify mass murder in order to achieve that result.
That's pretty disturbing, dude; maybe religion is perpetuating some harmful thinking here. Honestly, I think it's convinced you are a worse person than you are.

Here's the thing, I have a pretty good recollection of being both a serious christian and a serious atheist. And there's this huge outcry about "the lack of morals" atheism has and who knows what it might let people do. Because people are inherently sinful and flawed (religious teaching). Turns out, and to my surprise even, I took morality more seriously. It was something that unlike before which is handed down to me, something I need understand and work out. It's not this aloof code that you nervously hope you are following correctly as not to garner punishment or anger, but something where you have to get your hands in and wonder what helps people and what hurts people. It brings the question of morality right where it matters, and not some arbitrary set of rules.
And frankly, we haven't seen the atheist population being fraught with crime. In fact, the biggest thing that they are accused of is moral outrage at the harm that comes from religion.
Pew Pew Pew. Science.

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Re: Organized Religion: The Source of Evil?

Postby Sstavix » Thu Oct 09, 2014 4:44 pm

Nobody is saying that religion is the originating source of evil. In fact, I specifically stated it wasn't. Textbook Strawman.
I have heard some atheists make that claim, though. Perhaps not you, but some. But it does make me wonder... if religion is not the source of evil, what is?
Religion can be a source of evil for people, but it's only that way because someone before made it that way. My claim is that it catalyzes evil. People have some harmful tendencies and they make their way into it, and because these teachings must be accepted, they perpetuate far longer than they should.
I think this may be a bit of a "cart before the horse" argument. I propose that some people may have evil tendencies because of their biological nature (e.g. "That person is different than me") and use religion as an excuse for committing their acts ("That person must be destroyed because, since they are different than me, they must be evil.") So religion isn't a catalyst, but an excuse. And if it weren't around, people would use another excuse, instead (e.g. "They put their camp too close to my watering hole.") I came across a quote years ago - and I wish I had saved it - but I don't know where it originated, but it went something like this: "If everyone woke up and were the same race, gender and religion, it would take them five minutes to find something else to fight about."
These very rewards you so credit to religion as "making people good" often turn out to make people very evil. It gets people to commit acts they would never normally do, because now they think it adds to their afterlife, and it systematically resists weeding out these evil teachings. Also provides a system very easily used to manipulate people, as it demands obedience for rewards a person will not see in this life. Yeah, this is something atheism doesn't do.
But that doesn't answer my question. What does atheism - or secularism, if you prefer - offer as an incentive or a reward to do good?
You know why? Because atheism is the lack of a belief in a god. It's not a religion.
This sounds like an argument of semantics. How is "the lack of a belief in a god" different from "I don't believe there is a God?"
Atheism can't take credit for good or evil in people's life because it's not a set of teachings. It's a de facto position.
So you claim that atheism is morally neutral? That morality doesn't apply? Or that, if one is an atheist, that person needs to look elsewhere for moral guidance? If so, where do those moral systems get their definitions of "good" and "evil," and what would be my incentives for following them?

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Re: Organized Religion: The Source of Evil?

Postby Truthseeker » Thu Oct 09, 2014 5:10 pm

I don't think any one thing is THE source of evil. But I do think religious beliefs obviously motivate people to do evil things. For instance, I think the labor market for suicide bombers would plummet without the belief in the afterlife. I'll also concede that religion has motivated some people to do good who would not otherwise have found a motivation to be decent to the people we share a planet with. I won't even try to guess whether, on the balance, more harm than good has come from religion. It is flagrant speculation to try and imagine what people would have done had there religious beliefs been different from what they were. Maybe 9/11 would not have happened if the terrorists had been atheists. Maybe Stalin would not have killed millions of people if he had found Jesus. Talk about unverifiable ideas!

I do think we would be the best off, going forward, if we all found a reason to do wonderful, beautiful, humanitarian things without needing to imagine that if we are good then we'll get a prize after we die. That way we could have all that stuff without having to suppress our intellectual search for truth. But people keep saying that's impossible.
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Re: Organized Religion: The Source of Evil?

Postby ArcticFox » Thu Oct 09, 2014 6:45 pm

No, when specific teachings in religion lead to harm, you can't write it off as "in the name of." It has actively led to evil. Nor can you immediately assume that the higher-ups don't care about the religion and are just simply con-men. They can be duped into it just as well. In fact, they just about always are. That's the nature of religion, it creates a set of beliefs that one must simply accept. No verification. Religion perpetuates these evils. Not blamed for it. Not a scape goat. Perpetuates.
No, I can't agree with that, Broamir. What you're describing would be a very consistent and stable pattern of evil stretching over VERY long time. For every evil act committed in the name of religion that you could point to, I can point to a change where it is no longer so. Now granted, militant Islam hasn't reached the "chill out" point yet but again, I maintain what we're seeing is a result of cultural aggression, not something stemmed from religion.

Let's take the Spanish Inquisition as an example. It existed once, in a different culture, different time. It's gone now. Same Church. Same doctrines. Same pedigree, as it were. Where did the Inquisition go? It went away because the culture changed, not the religion.
Again, if you want to even begin crediting religion for all the good it teaches people, it's evil teachings need to be acknowledged. You can't do one without the other.
I conceded that in my very first post. And the second. :)
I'm going to continually reject your claim that religion is "another tool," you're going to have to demonstrate how it is one. I haven't even been talking about science, if you someone makes a truth claim, it should be verifiable. This is a fundamental. If you can't show that it's true, how is it one bit useful? This "tool" literally does nothing. It's just a salesman claiming the work is already done.
I don't need to prove that in order to make my point for this thread. Whether religion is a tool or not has nothing to do with its alignment.
And when various religions around the world, all using the same "tools," come up with radically different and mutually exclusive positions, one begins to suspect it's all bull.
Spoiler:
It is.
It's only bull if you ignore the common aspects of them.
Spoiler:
Yes, there are plenty.
No. It was propagated by the Bible. The doctor who claimed it was healthy and sanitary.. religious reasons. It's cultural now because of religious reasons.
Not to nitpick, but the Bible as such didn't exist for many, many centuries after circumcision became a thing. As for the health aspect... there is research to indicate that it is beneficial for helping reduce the risk of certain diseases.
I didn't think I had to do this, but apparently I do.
Nobody is claiming that religion is the sole source of evil. Pointing out other evils in the world literally means nothing. It's irrelevant and a red herring.
And, I probably should say this to. Nobody is saying religion is purely evil.
Well, maybe YOU aren't making that claim, but plenty of folks do and it is because of that that I launched this thread. You'd be amazed how many times I've heard the ridiculous assertion that if it weren't for religion, there'd be no war. Gene Roddenberry is well known to have been openly hostile to religion, to the point of calling it a mental illness.

(And yes, I like Star Trek anyway. I have a brand new Sovereign class starship game piece sitting on my desk right in front of me that I bought during lunch today for the game Star Trek: Attack Wing.)

So yeah, plenty of people are out there saying those things. Would you mind clarifying exactly what your position is? You've said there are other sources of evil besides religion, and you're saying that religion itself isn't purely evil, so what are we debating?
And no, the framework of religion is terrible. Beliefs that must be accepted without evidence is a poor structure, even if the teachings are good.
Ask any person who has a true testimony of their faith, and they'll tell you they have compelling evidence. I do. My personal testimony can't be used as proof to convince others, but it convinced me even when I was initially resistant to accepting the LDS Church. It isn't meant to convince anyone else. By all means reject it as evidence for you, as you rightly should. Faith based on someone else's word for it isn't faith in God, but in that other person, at best.
Nobody is saying that religion is the originating source of evil. In fact, I specifically stated it wasn't. Textbook Strawman.
I know this comment wasn't directed toward me, but I just wanted to say this: You don't honestly think Sstavix was strawmanning you, do you? It would seem a textbook case would have to include the intent, no?
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Re: Organized Religion: The Source of Evil?

Postby Sstavix » Thu Oct 09, 2014 7:53 pm

I don't think any one thing is THE source of evil. But I do think religious beliefs obviously motivate people to do evil things.
What do you think the source(s) of evil are, then? What motivates people to be jerks to each other? I still maintain that people may (and have) use religion as an excuse to do evil things, but those evil tendencies would exist regardless of the existence of religion.
I do think we would be the best off, going forward, if we all found a reason to do wonderful, beautiful, humanitarian things without needing to imagine that if we are good then we'll get a prize after we die. That way we could have all that stuff without having to suppress our intellectual search for truth. But people keep saying that's impossible.
I'm one of those people. I think that we, as humans, just aren't evolved enough to forget our base, self-centered, greedy natures. Not without some form of external moral compass to tell us what construes as "good" and "bad." Maybe in a few hundred more generations or so, but I have my doubts.
Ask any person who has a true testimony of their faith, and they'll tell you they have compelling evidence. I do. My personal testimony can't be used as proof to convince others, but it convinced me even when I was initially resistant to accepting the LDS Church. It isn't meant to convince anyone else. By all means reject it as evidence for you, as you rightly should. Faith based on someone else's word for it isn't faith in God, but in that other person, at best.
This is true, and the key. It isn't through scientific evidence and independent study that we'll find the existence of God. That's why applying scientific methods will always meet with failure. As ArcticFox and I have stated a few times, science is a great tool, but a poor fit for determining spiritual matters. Personal experiences with the divine are just that - personal. You can go ahead and listen to whatever religious authorities you want - Thomas S.Monson, Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, Billy Graham, you name it - but really, the most convincing evidence you'll get is your own personal relationship and communications with Heavenly Father. And that's something that no scientific theory or mathematical equation can get you.

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Re: Organized Religion: The Source of Evil?

Postby ArcticFox » Thu Oct 09, 2014 8:37 pm

I don't think any one thing is THE source of evil. But I do think religious beliefs obviously motivate people to do evil things. For instance, I think the labor market for suicide bombers would plummet without the belief in the afterlife. I'll also concede that religion has motivated some people to do good who would not otherwise have found a motivation to be decent to the people we share a planet with. I won't even try to guess whether, on the balance, more harm than good has come from religion. It is flagrant speculation to try and imagine what people would have done had there religious beliefs been different from what they were. Maybe 9/11 would not have happened if the terrorists had been atheists. Maybe Stalin would not have killed millions of people if he had found Jesus. Talk about unverifiable ideas!

I do think we would be the best off, going forward, if we all found a reason to do wonderful, beautiful, humanitarian things without needing to imagine that if we are good then we'll get a prize after we die. That way we could have all that stuff without having to suppress our intellectual search for truth. But people keep saying that's impossible.
You know Truth, in order to participate in this discussion you really need to get yourself a Bro name. Right, Arch? :mrgreen:
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