You Can Be Good Without God And You Must Be Evil With Him

Two common atheists rebuttals or arguments are:

1. You can be good without God
2. Look at all the evil religion does in the world

If one believed both those statements completely it isn’t hard to see how religion has such an uphill battle. I wonder if we are even able to have conversations with atheists who hold these core beliefs and aren’t willing to budge from them or see past them? Can the atheist also believe that:

3. You can be good with God
4. Look at all the good religion does in the world

It would be a much easier conversation if both sides could agree to all four points without making extreme statements and no room for the other. Religion is not ALL BAD and a belief in God doesn’t make you ALL GOOD. I have a hard time following certain atheist blogs and videos that just point to all the evil that religious people do and not really grasp the reality of what religion even is and what purpose is serves. I understand the argument, God believers certainly don’t have the corner on morality. But there has got to be a balanced look at this. Religion does not hurt humanity. Religion came from humanity and tells us a lot about what humanity is and what they think and what they need and how they view the world.

I don’t think it makes much sense to claim the first two without at least acknowledging the last two.

23 thoughts on “You Can Be Good Without God And You Must Be Evil With Him”

  1. Here’s a bit more to the argument – it doesn’t stop there. Atheists can clearly see that religious people do a lot of really good things in the world. There’s no disputing that. But the issue arises when the same motivating factors that inspire religious people to do good for the world can just as easily be the same foundations which cause people to do really bad things. We don’t have to go into the details, (the argument is exhausted) but people have done many bad things based on their understanding of the scriptures or based on anecdotal experiences that they would attribute to communication with their god. That’s where the issue lies.
    From an atheistic point of view, the good works in the world which any christian does are just as easily achieved without religion or the existence of a god. Unfortunately the great scale of good and bad religious works is tipping towards the latter.

  2. I’d much prefer to just refuse to see the scale in the first place, as if there is any quantifiable way to determine which one is ‘better.’

    So hear me out…

    religious people can do both good and bad, and non religious people can do both good and bad.

    religious people blame their goodness or their badness on their religion and many non religious people blame their goodness and badness on their lack of religion.

    Do you think that it would be safe to assume that religion is really not the factor here of good and bad?

  3. I can see that people do bad things – both believers and non-believers.
    But all that expresses is that humans can be volatile – regardless of their personal beliefs. The only way to combat that is to have a secular point of view that examines facts and truths about a situation.
    When you enter a highly subjective and anecdotal factor such as a person’s religion, that can only muddy our already hit-or-miss and emotionally driven approaches to life.
    Yes people do bad things, but an atheist wouldn’t ever commit a genocide because they’re an atheist. Religion has on the other hand been a deciding factor to a horrendous act, which if approached by a secular point of view may’ve been avoided.

  4. This is though what I’m trying to get at. I don’t believe that people commit genocides because they are religious either. To be honest, I think it’s a cop-out to blame “religion” as this entity in and of itself that has power over people. I think we can look at someone like Hitler and say he was Roman Catholic, or he was an Atheist, and still have figured out very little about anything of what motivated him or why he did what he did.

    You say that “religion has on the other hand been a deciding factor to a horrendous act, which if approached by a secular point of view may have been avoided.” and this is why I wrote this post in the first place, because I don’t think that is a valid or true statement. I think horrendous acts exist in and outside of religion and to assume that if we got rid of religion we might get rid of some evil is not really understanding religion at all. Religion is not this external force for good or evil. Religion is like technology, it’s much more what you do with it rather than what it’s doing to you.

  5. But the jury is still out on if religion actually can help you or the world. Technology can – and it’s very easy to prove that.
    Like I said, anything you could do that helps the world in the name of your religion can also be done without religion.
    Your point of view, which takes somewhat of a more philosophical view of what religions role should be is not shared by all – that’s the problem. And with technology you can have atomic bombs, but you can also have people saying you can’t use atomic bombs unless really crucial and extraordinary situations occur. for the most part the use of an atomic bomb is decided by very important, responsible groups of people who answer to entire nations.
    Religion is available to all, and highly subjective to what people use it for. And when you have the so-called creator of the universe at the centre of it, with a promise of an afterlife, you also have a wild-card which – in the wrong person’s hand is enough to do quite a lot of damage.

  6. No, the jury isn’t out on either of those things. Technology like religion is not evil in and of itself. Technology can help the world, but I think that the industrial revolution taught us a few things, mainly that technology has also destroyed the world beyond repair. So do we blame technology for that? Or do we blame how it was used?

    I’m not sure how you can’t see the wild card of having a belief in an afterlife as more dangerous than the wild card of having technology in the wrong person’s hands?

    What is the main difference you see between technology and religion in terms of it being dangerous? Is it not whose hands it is in and their motives of such a discovery?

  7. The whole debate depends upon the presupposition that there can be a distinction between “religious” and “non-religious” human beings. Once we establish this then [of course!] we can blame ideologies and castles in the sky rather than human beings who – at the end of the day – are the ones who carry out violence (not some deity).

    I reject this false dichotomy of “religion” vs. “non-religion” (or sacred vs. secular). This false dichotomy was invented within the last 1,000 years (mostly during the Enlightenment). [Really good books on this: Theology & Social Theory by John Milbank; and Stages of Faith by James Fowler.]

    That said, I agree with what Nathan is trying to get at here. Blaming religion for its evils is a copout for many reasons: 1. It fails to see the good religion creates. 2. It’s lazy because it fails to hold human beings accountable for their actions (how does one indict a religion or convict an ideology?) 3. It rests on a false dichotomy between religion/non-religion and thereby fails to critique “non-religious” evil from an ideological perspective (i.e. you can’t just say person A is bad due to religion and person B is just plain bad. There’s something deeper going on).

    Nevertheless, we DO need to challenge the systemic violence that ideologies cause. I totally agree with this! This is where criticism of religion is founded. Using sacred scriptures to oppress LGBTQ? I oppose this ideology! But it also where criticism of “non-religious” ideology is founded. So, again, there is something deeper going on than simply “religion” vs. “non-religion.”

    Beneath so much of the “religious violence” is not religion at all, but POLITICS. There is a great chapter called “The Myth of Religious Violence” in the book Subverting Global Myths by Vinoth Ramachandra. He makes this argument by citing many examples in geopolitics. I find it compelling.

    Also: one of the greatest ironies of this approach is that it fuels religious fundamentalism even more so. When I see this happen I’m like “Umm, DUH.”

    Lastly (sorry for droning on), something Troy said was quite interesting. He said, ” the good works in the world which any christian does are just as easily achieved without religion or the existence of a god.” I have two thoughts: 1) We know this? “the good works… are just as easily achieved…?” How do we know this? It’s not that I really disagree, I just wonder how it is we can know this.

    And, 2) At the end of the day, I personally don’t care if the good works are achieved with or without “religion” or “God.” I care that human beings actually live those good works (akin to, say, Jesus). And what’s funny, is that I think that’s what Jesus cares more about too! But, personally speaking, I haven’t found a way to do those good works without the aid of “God” and the story I encounter in the Jesus story.

  8. I think we’re missing the point here: Why do some people make the above anti-theistic argument in the title here?

    Religion itself has had to withstand some of the most vicious hammer blows from science, psychology, ancient historians, etc. over the past 300-400 years.

    The only leg that religion now stands on is that it is somehow linked to morality or that the religious have a monopoly on morality. This bad argument may get brought up in secular countries with low religiosity, but here in Oklahoma, it is quite popular.

    “Look at the evil of religion” is not an argument against the existence of god. It is an argument against the idea that religion has a monopoly on morality. And this is why I don’t mind it when people point out all the wicked acts done in the name of religion.

    I feel like this same blog post could have been made 500 years ago by substituting the word religion with witchcraft, “You can still be good with witchcraft” and “Look at all the good things people have done with witchcraft (just ignore the thousands that have died – but fear not! They were simply not true witches)”. I also think we should take time to acknowledge how well the infrastructure improved under Nazism, or how well education improved under Stalin.

    Even though I think the core components of religion (Christianity especially) are actually immoral, to prove that religion does cause people harm you could either open a history textbook, travel to Saudi Arabia, or quickly examine the suicide bombers – a community of which is ENTIRELY religious. I can’t guarantee that getting rid of religion would solve all of the world’s problems, but I tell you what, the suicide bombing community would be greatly affected by this.

    To JMW above:
    Aside from your absolutely horrifying comment that you “have not found a way to do good works without the aid of god.”
    I ask you one thing: Name me one morally good action that could be committed by a religious person that could not be committed by the infidel.
    Bonus question: Now name me one morally wicked action that could only be made by a believer. I bet you’ve already thought of five before finishing this sentence.

    1. Rob, I think you are reaching with some of your own presuppositions and ideologies a little bit with some of your responses.

      The only leg religion now stands on is linked to morality? Really? I think that is true if you only understand religion from the definitions of the anti-religious and if you are only listening to the arguments made by the religious defending themselves against atheists that are telling them their religion is worthless. I think it’s a quite shallow understanding of religion to look at the Dalai Lama and say that the only leg he has to stand on is that he is has some link to morality and others do not.

      You are making it seem that I’m saying “you can still be good with God” as if it’s a stretch of the imagination to imagine that there could be good people that believe in God. When all i’m doing is pointing out that you can be good with or without a belief in God. To take a ‘side’ on that issue is to wrongly understand religion, humanity and the direction of society. I’m not suggesting the same old argument to ignore the thousands of dead and the horrors of the world, I’m simply refusing to attribute evil done evil by religious people to “religion” as if religion in and of itself has the power to corrupt humans. Humans (from my belief) are already corrupt, or have the potential to be corrupt, so to then point to external factors such as religion and blame their evil on that instead of humanity itself taking responsibility. Which if you can at least believe that (that humans have the capacity of both good and evil) then religion can be viewed a lot differently as not the cause of good and evil but rather the attempt to acknowledge and define it.

      If you think the core components of Christianity are “immoral” I would love to know what you think those components are? I think I have a pretty strong moral compass and I also hold to the Christian faith so I don’t follow?

      I think though that JMW is onto something in needing to define someone as religious and someone as not religious. For instance, when you say “ENTIRELY religious” what does that mean exactly? I would consider myself very religious (probably entirely if we were really to lay it out). What makes that community entirely religious and say an ‘atheist anarchist activist’ who uses violence to destroy corporations and save the environment not religious? Is it because one uses the term “God” to describe their beliefs and the other refuses to use the term? Is the only way to distinguish between someone entirely religious and someone who is not religious (which I assume is probably your view of yourself?) that one claims that God is their muse and the other claims science is?

  9. I deal with truth Nathan. In terms of truth, religion has only one defense left and that is holding onto dear life, the false belief that it is linked to morality.

    I will give religion credit. It was our first crack at meteorology, first attempt at disease theory, at explaining earthquakes, volcanoes, astronomy, cosmology, biology, medical sciences, psychology, morality and most importantly, death. Religion is in shambles of what it once was, which was an absolute unquestionable authority on all these things. This is why religiosity has been in decline and will only get worse – we can’t fill in our ignorance of the world with “god” like we used to.

    But let’s get to the point here: Your argument is that we can’t blame religion for atrocities. Let’s examine this. Who would think 2500 years ago, that upon giving birth to a new born child, “What a beautiful gift I’ve been given, how perfect? Now quick, give me a sharp stone so I may start hacking away at his genitalia.” Or how about female circumcision? This is divinely commanded and entirely religiously inspired – who would think to do this if it were not in holy scriptures? The suicide bombers would not bomb themselves if they did not believe in the sixth axiom of the Shia. So when I say ENTIRELY religious, I am saying the people who blow themselves up are doing so for religious purposes – for they think it is divinely warranted for them to do so and an eternal reward awaits them. An anarchist activist who happens to be atheist may use violence to save the environment – but she does not do so BECAUSE she is an atheist. That is the difference here. Women are still stoned to death in the Middle East for the crime of being raped – this is an entirely religious justification based in scripture. To deny that religion (of any kind) can corrupt a human being, I feel is horribly irresponsible.

    As for my comment on the immorality of Christianity – the idea of vicarious redemption has to be the most disgusting aspect of the religion by confusing moral ethics and slashing away at moral accountability. I’ve also never been a big proponent of thought crime either.

    1. Rob, I am going to suggest that I also deal with truth. Which I’m assuming is the foundation in which you and I can have this conversation, both attempting to make our case using truth.

      However, you dealing with truth also seems to have you making some pretty extreme claims (ie, religion is holding onto dear life, religiosity is in decline, the reason we continue with bad habits (female circumcision is because of religious purposes only.) So here we are, you sound like you are on a similar vein with Troy above, which I understand and sympathize with (as I too wish to rid the world of evil!) but cannot make the leap that you do that this is in fact ‘religions’ fault in and of itself. I think you are defining religion as this evil force on it’s own without really understanding the human condition.

      I think that if you looked at theories around the idea of cognitive dissonance that you would start to see that religion isn’t the culprit here but rather the human condition is the culprit and humans are capable of manipulating and interpreting ANYTHING including fact and science to mean and do whatever they want. They do it all the time in and outside of religion. Just look at American politics with the right and lefts rhetoric surrounding capitalism war, religion, economics and the poor.

      So with that said, I am suggesting that there is no such thing as “religious purposes” and there is only such thing as “human purposes” and humans can do good and bad and can attribute any meaning that they want to it at all without needing a made up external force to blame. They can do it with religion just as they can with humanism or atheism. They can also do it with how they allow science to provide meaning (or no meaning) to their lives.

      As for Christianity, I think it would be worth having this conversation at another time, but the way you frame the immorality of Christianity is a pretty weak understanding of the Christian message and I think you would be surprised at how much you have read your own motives into your understanding of the religion.

  10. I was no doubt quite strident in my wording. But my wording was used in comparison to where religion was two or three thousand years ago (I would be put to death for even having this conversation). Religiosity is definitely in decline since then – that is not even controversial. I will try not to be so hyperbolic though.

    Let’s take the following example. Holy Scripture A says that if a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night, she is to be stoned to death and dropped on the father’s doorstep. If someone thinks that this scripture is the word of God, and murders this woman because he believes every word is the word of the God he believes in, this person was not corrupted by religion? Female circumcision is a completely religious ceremony. Suicide bombing has completely religious justification – where was the last time we heard about a secular physicist blowing himself up in a crowded theatre in the name of Richard Feynman? But if you want evidence of a religious physicist blowing himself up in the name of god, merely look at the list of terrorists from 9/11.

    I won’t argue that religion is corrupting for everyone. But for some people it is. This is undeniable. I also think power, money, and greed corrupt people as well – and I don’t think this is controversial. However I think the idea that if something is divinely commanded it is much, much stronger than any power or any amount of money – it is blinding in some people. This is how you see someone like one of the hijackers who was a wealthy physicist, and completely logical in every aspect of his life, be completely blinded by his religion and commit such a wicked action.

    Religion is capable of making people do good things, but it also capable of corrupting people to do bad things. This is because of how vague the texts are – they are justifiable to almost anything.

    Now if you wanted to argue that since man created religion, that through a complicated form of reductionist argumentation man’s human purposes are still to blame, well, then I would agree with you.

    And just nitpicking, but atheism is not a thing. People don’t do things in the name of atheism. Atheism is simply a non belief in the theistic claims of the religious – nothing more, nothing less. Atheism would not even exist as a word if we didn’t have theism to deal with.

  11. Rob, I’m sorry you find my sharing of my own personal experience of reality as horrifying. I don’t feel disparaged at all. ;) Thanks for your overflowing tolerance (that is what non-believers are known for, right?). Kidding aside, it really is the truth for me: as I try to learn how to be a human being I find something compelling in the story of Jesus and I can honestly say that it is the constant centering of my life around that story that molds me into who I be and how I see the world and treat others.

    To answer your provocative question(s) I would have to adopt the false dichotomy that I previously stated I do not adopt. So, I can’t answer those. Moreover, your first question is quite loaded and safely protected in the realm of abstract hypothetical. Honestly, who gives a shit if we cannot “name a good act” that could not be carried out by a so-called “non-religious”? Of course we can hypothetically say that any human is capable of doing a morally good act. Big whoop. What, exactly, does that accomplish? It’s a silly thought experiment (IMHO) because it doesn’t demand real, live human beings acting morally. The bigger question is this: How ARE the so-called “non-religious” living their lives? I really really hope that they are living in just, ethical, loving ways – and the truth is: some are, some aren’t. (But here we run into another huge problem: what *is* a “good” life? How are we to determine that the so-called “non-religious” are, in fact, living a “good” life? Oh, because they’re not carrying out religious violence? Oh, I see, but consumeristic nihilism is morally justifiable? Or ecological violence is OK as long as it’s not “religious”. Or slave-driven materialism is also OK. Etc. Etc. It’s very messy, eh?)

    And that is precisely a point that Nathan makes here: religion vs. non-religion is failing us as a paradigm for discerning how to be good human beings. We need to first expand our brains here and wonder what else is going on that makes some “religious” people good and others bad; some “non-religious” people good and others bad. For non-god’s sake break out of the modern either/or dichotomy. :)

    And we need to secondly determine what is ethical human behaviour. These are huuuuuuuge questions. Just because you’re “non-religious” and haven’t blown something up doesn’t make you a good person.

    As for the bonus question, this too is based on your bias (and a strange one at that). Why, exactly, is someone carrying out violence in the name of their religion worse than someone carrying out violence in the heat of revenge? I don’t get that. I find it all equally horrifying. Again, I recommend that chapter “The Myth of Religious Violence” from Ramachandra. He debunks a lot of you see as simply “religious” evil (i.e. suicide bombings, etc.). The main point is that *all* religion is interconnected with politics (for that is what religion is about: the polis). Thus, “religion” gets swept up into alllllllll sorts of various competing ideologies. I like to say that the only religion that is worth a damn is a non-violent one.

    And it’s here that I think we all have much in common. I think you raise some great points in your latest comment: ultimately, it is our “gods” that blind us and demand total devotion, even unto death. Right? I use the term “gods” because this is how I see EVERYBODY’s “ultimate concern” or “system of value/power.” Thus, you are right that religious ideology is DANGEROUS as it can manipulate people’s behaviour in terrible ways. But, then again, doesn’t money do the same thing? Oh my goodness, if we started another conversation about the damage that love of money has caused then surely we’d be talking about millions of people murdered. It’s sickening. And suppose we also threw in Nationalism or devotion to one’s “tribe”. Well then we’d also be talking about all sorts of terrible things, not least racism and genocide.

    The point: it is our “gods” that blind us and demand our devotion, right? And I think you are totally justified and correct to criticize those who allow their religious ideology to do violence and harm human life. I’m actually a part of that voice of criticism too.

    But… what do you do with me? Or Nathan? (If I can speak for him!) Because, you see, neither of us are using our religious ideology to do harm. On the contrary, I find my faith in the God of Jesus to be utterly life-giving and brings me a way of seeing the world with joy, hope, love and mission for justice and healing. You can’t just lump me in with all those other “evil religious bigots”. And this is precisely where I often have a problem with folk of your persuasion. I hear your opinion and I agree with so much of it. The problem is that you fail to take ME into consideration. You just skirt right past me and keep talking about suicide bombers and religious fundamentalists.

    And again, this is precisely Nathan’s point: these common atheistic arguments are overly simplistic and fail to account for the evidence of incredible human beings doing incredible things in the world in the name of their faith.

    The response, “Well, those incredible things could easily be done without faith” IS NOT A RESPONSE TO THE EVIDENCE … because the confession to faith IS inherently part of the evidence! The response you continue to give to this evidence fails to take seriously the [“horrifying”] confession that your brothers and sisters are saying: I couldn’t do this without my faith. And so your refusal to actually LISTEN to your fellow human siblings is a result of your own ideological bias. You cannot hear someone say “I could not be the person I am without my faith in God” and then reply, “Yes you could.” That is the definition of ideological oppression! Ironic, eh?

    3 more things:

    1. Religion is not declining, it just doesn’t look like it used to. It is evolving right along with the human species. Human consciousness is so unbelievably mysterious and our ability to transcend ourselves so awesome that we’ll never stop dreaming and listening to that “beyond.” Mark my words: in the West you’re going to see an increase in communities of people who are trying to work for justice while acknowledging some kind of mystery called “God” – many of them will identify as Christians. The institutions are dying but faith in the postmodern West will increase.

    2. Morality is not the only leg religion is standing on. Try also: mystery (with the realization that science ISN’T figuring everything out and can’t explain all of reality), beauty, community, and hope. You’re right that a lot of people adopt religions as code for morality, but it is impossible to say that this is “all” that it offers.

    3. I’m truly sincere when I say that it sounds like you are embedded in a very “modern” understanding of the world. I know that since you are on the search for truth you are open-minded. So I really suggest reading some John Milbank or Charles Taylor. Better yet: have a listen to this fun podcast, even if you hate it you can sharpen your arguments. http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2012/09/10/radical-orthodoxy-christian-materialism-justin-klassen-on-podcast-ep-164/


  12. Religiosity (or a little less extreme, ‘those that follow a religion’) is far from declining. In Western culture, especially among the intellectual class, sure, it’s declining, and in many ways it should and I am happy it is, the new atheist movement is a much needed response to the cliche driven evangelical christian church. However, worldwide, it is not declining as fast around the world as it is around where we are and overall it’s probably growing before it’s dying.

    I think religion can be corrupt for everyone, I have no problem admitting that. But I am just careful that that admission comes along with another admission, that I think politics, our education system, money, health care, philosophy…all of it can be corrupt for anyone. So if we can agree with that, then I think we can move onto the next argument which is “how does religion lend itself to corruption” which is a way different than assuming that ‘religion is corrupt.’ So if we can move to that former question, then I think we have a good starting place for better understanding religion and humanity and why it exists and what it’s meant to do. And it looks like while I”m writing this JMW just left a comment which I thought was great especially when he talks about what demands our devotion. I think that if any ideology demands our devotion to a point of that which is unloving is an idealology that I would fight against. Religion included.

    A few issues I see.

    1. Someone says “I do this in the name of God, or in the hopes of 30 virgins” and so then we instantly blame the religion or texts that say these things. This is a strong leap because then it would follow that if those verses never said those things or those religions didn’t exist than those atrocities wouldn’t happen. The problem is that they would still happen with or without religion. Religion is just a brilliant scapegoat to hide humanity’s corruption. In the same way that in Nazi Germany we had a ton of Germans that were charged with terrorizing and killing Jews and there only response after was “I was just following orders” and in the same way we have Wall St bankers preying on the poor and taking advantage of the financial system for their own greedy selfish gain, we also have suicide bombers who kill others for the sake of their ideals. I just can’t look at all the atrocities done by all these people, religious and not, and then say we need to get rid of religion (or economics or political systems). I think this should rather make us look deeper into what these religions are about, why they have so many people that live and die by them and what kinds of people they are churning out by their precepts. This is a much more beneficial conversation to have in my opinion.

    2. Your statement about man creating religion therefore it’s man that is the problem is something I played around with and wouldn’t refuse to go down that road. Afterall, this would be an argument that would difficult to unravel for the atheist. But since you agree, let’s play with it a bit. What if there was a religion that claimed that man’s purposes ARE to blame? Then an entire religion was built on the idea that men are corrupt and are in need of saving…. Not that I think Christianity was man’s idea…but if it was (which you would believe?) I think it’s pretty brilliant that man could create a religion that considers the very point that man would create a religion to deal with it’s own need for it.

  13. (disclaimer: I’ve had several beers tonight)

    I find it hard to think in terms of ‘without God’.

    Perhaps it comes off as smug, but I recognize all the good in the world as stemming from God. That may piss of the atheist, but actually, it’s quite affirming. It’s less polarizing when I can recognize the good in Troy or whoever as legitimate rather than an act or a facade. If we really claim to be followers of Christ, we should be affirming people in their goodness no matter how they claim to have come across it.

    And I would hope that the atheist is OK with my reason for being good.

    After all, is it the source that’s important, or the goodness itself?

    My belief is that I am nothing without God. Is it really that important that I be stripped of that? Is it really that important that an atheist be convinced of that?

  14. Religion isn’t a scapegoat as much as it is a cause. The bottom line is that something in the divine realm which one needs to believe or take in faith is the factor here – that’s what’s causing the damage. It’s giving people somewhat of the final push in the direction of an act that would otherwise be cancelled out by secular approach and rational understanding of a situation. Science says there is no afterlife – no virgins, heaven, hell, just a decomposing body and transfer of energy. If that was understood and accepted within all religions, than I would bet my house on the notion that we’d lose 99.9999% of suicide bombing attacks.
    I agree, let’s not necessarily get rid of religion in terms of making it illegal, but let’s do what we’ve already been doing – let’s use the good ideas about morality and fairness which you find in many religions and the teachings of Jesus, and accept them as guidelines and philosophies in our culture – because those are what is the saving grace for religion currently (in the world and this conversation), and those are things that even atheists can and currently do support.
    I would have no problem doing this as long as any religious person could happily accept the idea that there probably isn’t a god, there probably isn’t an afterlife, and that prayer doesn’t actually do anything short of self-edification, and that the pursuit of science and technology with a humanistic approach is the only thing that will unite the world and preserve life and our planet.

    1. Troy, I think that’s what we disagree on (your first sentence). You blame religion and I think religion just gives us something to blame. I won’t go and repeat JMW here but what do you do with peaceful religions? Religions that do good in the world? What do you do with me?

      Religion has the potential to corrupt, but it does not corrupt absolutely. Every religion is different and the one you are describing is describing ideologies that are tied into religion, not religions on their own. The very fact that one person can follow a religion, or consider themselves religious, and not cancel out rational understanding at least suggests that the problem isn’t with religion. The problem is more like religion + ideology + human condition. Again, we both want the same things and to achieve it we approach it differently. I would rather change the religion and the ideology (as I do not believe you can be without them). You would rather get rid of the religion all together.

      How about if the religious person accepts that they don’t know if there is a God and they don’t know if there is an afterlife and they don’t know if prayer is ‘doing anything’ – can you have no problem with it then? Or is the only time you are going to have no problem with it is if you basically have religious people who refuse to have faith in their religion because it’s probably not true? Is it only what is ‘true’ that can have meaning and purpose?

      Time for my sarcastic comment: I am so glad that you have so much faith in the religion of science and technology that you actually think it is the answer to human greed and corruption that all we have to do is pursue it harder and we will have unity and save the world.

      You have bought into a religion friend :)

  15. Nathan,
    THERE IS NO LEAP MADE HERE. Name a suicide bombing attack that was made by a n Anglican Christian, or someone of Jainism, or a Gnostic Atheist. You take away the Quran, Hadith and Shia pillars, you will stop suicide bombings. They don’t do this for purely political reasons, if it was they would not take their own life. But since suicidal jihad is a religious pillar they do it with honor and eagerness. It is not for economic reasons as a number of the suicide bombers on 9/11 were wealthy. It is not for education reasons as a number of the suicide bombers on 9/11 had PHDs. The burden of proof is on you here.
    As for your second point, I see brilliance elsewhere – but I explained this earlier (about how religion gave us a ton of answers, albeit wrong ones, when we were stumbling around in the desert not knowing what the heck was going on). There is no better means of control when you can give people answers about what they are scared about and you can convince everyone is born sick and divinely commanded to be well. This infers everyone has a debt to be repaid.

    As for JMW,
    Let’s push the scenario aside, I was merely making a point that there is no monopoly on moral actions. Also, yes I do find that if the only reason someone does a good deed is because of reading about the good things from Jesus, well, yeah, that is a bit scary. I have had multiple religious people tell me that the ONLY reason they don’t murder and steal is because they believe in God – and that is frightening to me.
    But let’s move on to the meat of your points. The reason why I haven’t brought up consumeristic nihilism and the whole lot is simply because that is not what this blog is about. I think they are bad. Objectively bad.

    Now I never said religion corrupts everyone that is religious. I never said you an Nathan are corrupt. What I said is that religion is not infallible to corrupting people. Which is what my posts have been centered around.

    The reason for some of these needlessly longer posts was because I misunderstood Nathan as I felt he was saying that greed, power, Nationalism, violence, etc can all corrupt people, but religion has never corrupted a single human being on the earth ever. Quite a strident statement – That has really been the sole purpose of each of my posts. But I feel that is no longer the case anymore – I think I just misunderstood him.

    To answer the idea of declining religiosity, I know this a bit off topic (to what this post was about) but I will be brief, because I find it odd that religious and non-religious people a like are in absolute agreement on this, but it seems I have found the only two who disagree with me. There seems to be a blog post or a book published on this very topic every day.

    In the last 7 years in
    Ireland – 69% religious to now 47%
    Vietnam – 53% religious to now 30%
    Switzerland – 71% religious to now 50%
    France – 58% religious to now 37%
    South Africa – 83% religious to now 64%

    These are not tiny numbers. I’ve barely scratched the surface here.

    5000-7000 churches close every year just in the United States. One of the more religious countries around. 1500 pastors leave the ministry permanently each year in America.

    PS. Nathan I wish you a “edit” button on here I make an average of 20 typing mistakes – the text box is real small!

  16. Sorry Nathan, a lot of needlessly written stuff in that last post – would have helped to see your reply to Troy first as you answered it there.

  17. Maybe it would be good to steer this back on course.
    I think we agree on a lot more than what we disagree on here that it may appear.

    Nathan is saying that all things can corrupt people to an extent, but it is the combination of external things like power, nationalism, religion etc. and our internal attributes like greed, jealousy, etc. that lead to atrocious acts being committed.

    I am saying that I agree with ALL of that – except in one situation. And that is that in Islam – we could remove suicidal bombings by removing religion from that equation.

    I think that is where the difference is here.

    Now I think Nathan would be on strong ground here if he replaced the word religion with Christianity – but since he did not – he has to accept all of the religions which is much harder to prove.

  18. OK, Let’s tackle Islam, as I think it might pose a challenge to us both seeing as neither of us are Muslim. So you are saying that if there was no Islam behind the suicide bombers then there would be bombings. This is also a statement I disagree with.

    You are essentially saying that it is the teachings of Islam in and of itself that caused and motivated the suicide bombers. Yet you are failing to acknolwedge the millions upon millions that DO NOT bomb places and follow the same teachings. So it’s like was stated above by JMW in referrencing book “The Myth of Religious Violence” that I think you are just making a leap that it is religion in and of itself that is causing the horrific violence without really understanding any of the other factors that are in play here (family, indoctrination, politics, money).

    So even in your exception, I think you are reaching. Now this isn’t to say that if you remove religion from the equation that things would look a lot different, they would absolutely, but it certainly isn’t going to make violence disappear, it will just change the reasons why the violence exists. Again religion is a great and easy scapegoat for violence and it gives us something to blame but I think the problem of violence runs a lot deeper than simply bad interpretations of holy texts of various religions.

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