A few days ago, in response to a post about my aunt, who had been swindled by a member of her church in Wisconsin, a reader by the name of Mr. X left the following comment.
Has religion given us more good than bad, historically speaking? I’d like to say that it was a positive force for many years, as mankind made the transition to civil society, and that makes all the shit since then worth it, but I’m beginning to think that it’s shifting toward a net negative. I mean, the golden rule was awesome, and revolutionary, but does that counterbalance the religious wars, the stoning of rape victims, the pedophilia of priests, the greed and cruelty of the mega-church crowd who would rather see the poor starve in the streets than pay more in taxes, the historic theft of the Catholic church, the denying of birth control to people who can’t feed the children that they already have, and all the rest?
A reader calling himself Mr. Y then responded with the following, which, I felt as though I had to move up here to the front page. Here’s hoping that you find it as thought provoking as I did.
It’s a question well worth asking, but the term “religion” is so broad to be meaningless. It’s like asking has “science” or “technology” given us more good than bad. The wheel was pretty cool. So were sharp tools and fire. But then came tanks, swords and nuclear bombs. So is science good or bad?
Of course, you can’t easily escape that your very question is grounded on religious notions of good and bad, as defined by our dominant religious history. Some religions are based on caste, rulers as unquestionable deity, raping children to attain purity and so on…
So, no, religion is not a pure good (i.e., “good” as defined by Christian religion). But I think what you recoil against isn’t religion, but hypocrisy (as defined by Christian religion).
In pre-Christian Rome, raping kids wasn’t considered pedophilia (at least not in a bad way). It was more akin to getting a free cup of coffee on the way to work. The Romans, of course, were quite religious. They thought they were good. We don’t, since we’re in the lineage of their replacement religion that thought sexing most anything was bad.
I do think the past century has given us a glimpse at non-religious States moral aptitude. It’s also worth noting that the States that have made the most progress in a spectrum human rights still carry a loud echo of the golden rule in their collective unconsciousness. (I still think the Golden Rule is awesome.)
The Golden Rule (do unto others) does (on face value) stand in pretty starkly naive contrast to “survival of the fittest.” Which party platform would you vote for? Do unto others or survival of the fittest? (Fits nicely, eh?)
If I may get religious, Jesus used the term hypocrite more than once. I think he knew it’d be a useful term. It recognizes and anticipates the inevitability of fakes. Opportunist fakes are inevitable. Hypocrisy is not religion.
As an aside, since all your negative references to “religion” were of Christian hypocrisy, is it fair to ask that you’re real question was “is Christianity useful?”
My answer is to look around the world for the past century or so. Is there a place you can find where human dignity (with its slow moving imperfections) is as fully realized as in nation’s with a Christian lineage? What system (religious or otherwise) would you prefer raise your children in?
As right as it is to rail against hypocrisy, we need to give props to the source of our indignancy. The most irreligious among us, are, on the moral scale of defining “right” and “wrong,” deeply, deeply Christian.
If, in our current age of science, you even think in terms of right and wrong, you are hopelessly religious.
The rest of you read Ayn Rand.
Please feel free to pour yourself a dixie cup full of wine and join in the discussion.