Sunday, June 15, 2008

Is religion dangerous?

This is a provocative, but important, question to ask. I often hear people say that, even if there is no God, religion does not hurt anybody…therefore, atheists’ objections to religious dogma are pointless. My usual reply to this is to list atrocities that have been committed in the name of religions, and their respective Gods, throughout the millennia.

I think that recognizing the horrendous acts that the “godly” have committed over the years based on the tenets of their respective dogmas is important—especially when discussing the dangers of faith. However, because very few people today have experienced those atrocities firsthand, I think the point often gets lost.

Here are several tangible examples of the dangers of religion on both an individual and social level:

1. Faith and Federal Policy: Several recent polls show that 40-60% of Americans believe Jesus Christ will return at sometime within the next fifty years. This figure is absolutely astonishing. What this means is that there are 200 million of our neighbors and fellow citizens who think that the apocalypse will occur at some point within the next fifty years. This statistic should alarm any person who is even remotely aware of the potential harm this mindset can cause as we, as a nation, are confronted with very complicated modern problems.

How do we tackle problems like global warming that require long-term solutions when half of us do not even believe there will be anything to save? We simply cannot create efficient and durable environmental policies when most of us are expecting the world to end. Perhaps the problem with this way of thinking is best illustrated by Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, James G. Watt, who said “We don’t have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand.”

This type of thinking also pervades our foreign policy. It is virtually impossible to craft effective long-term foreign policies with countries in the Middle East and Asia when those people are considered, by any biblical definition, to be heretics, non-believers and blasphemers. Religious dogma is clearly incompatible and incredibly dangerous in a global society where we must learn to put aside our differences and work diplomatically toward solutions.

2.Seeking Counsel in Clergyman: In my experience, this is especially prevalent within the African-American Christian community. Black churches across America teach their parishioners that when they experience an incredibly tragic event, don’t go to a therapist, but seek refuse in God—which usually means talking to the clergymen. The problem with this is that most church leaders are ill-equipped to counsel someone through complex emotional and personal issues. It is undeniable that attempting to help someone through an issue from the perspective of first century superstition and scripture is incredibly limited and potentially dangerous. I know someone who found several family members brutally murdered in their home, yet instead of hiring licensed therapist, this person pushed more deeply into church. They would often say, “God will get me through this.” Well it has been four years and they are still waiting on God.

Even in less extreme situations that confront most people like divorce or financial woes, there seems to be an ardent refusal among conservative Christians in our community to utilize the resources that exist outside the church for appropriately managing these situations.

3.Faith Fixes Everything: The fundamental problem with a belief in a supreme, omnipotent, omnipresent being is that this mindset completely undermines the responsibility that we , as individuals, have to take care of ourselves by making responsible decisions. How is one supposed to take full personal responsibility in a situation when they believe that God has already figured out exactly what’s going to happen?

People who honestly believe that ‘God will make a way can make potentially disastrous decisions without considering the full consequences—because they believe ‘the power of prayer’ will intercede to create the outcome that they desire. Applying this mindset to life’s important decisions is like jumping off a cliff and thinking that God will put out a safety net ‘just in time.’

In closing, it has become increasingly obvious to me that there are modern issues we are dealing with that will require enormous cooperation and foresight, and religious dogma is clearly an impediment to these goals. In addition to affecting our federal policies, religious dogma is destructive at the personal level because it offers people false hope in dealing with personal issues and it encourages them that they can do whatever they want to because God will ‘make a way’. I can only hope we realize how dangerous religious dogma is before it is too late.

17 comments:

Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

3.Faith Fixes Everything: The fundamental problem with a belief in a supreme, omnipotent, omnipresent being is that this mindset completely undermines the responsibility that we , as individuals, have to take care of ourselves by making responsible decisions.

A recent prominent example of how this can go wrong is the death of a diabetic 11 year old whose parents preferred prayer to medical intervention.

Wrath said...

Nice blog, my brother. Keep it up. The more voices the better.

Richard said...

Right on. Damn good post. However, I found a part in need of correction:

"don’t go to a therapist, but seek refuse in God"

Should be:

"don’t go to a therapist, but seek refuge in God"

Unless you meant to use refuse. ;)

Michael Faulkner said...

(ps I don’t know if this posted properly last time.)

I discovered this blog via the forum of richardawkins.net some of the posters were commenting that you have unnecessarily segregated yourself as a black atheist.

To be honest your labelling of yourself has made me aware of the fact that there seems to be no high profile black atheists in the media (to my knowledge) I would argue the more distinctive and differing voices the better.

This is a interesting blog you have got here, I’ll check back weekly to see your posts. I too live in a deeply religious country Northern Ireland and I believe there is much work to be done for it to become a secular, religion free country.


From what I can see from your blog you write that the black community seem to rely more on and seem more religious than other demographics. I’m not being snide but I wonder what the evidence is for that? I suspect you are right and that perhaps the more secure and prosperous and educated one becomes the less one is inclined to be religious. I am well aware of the religiosity of America in general not just the black community. I am a fan of HBO’s The Wire and you can see for good and ill the influence that the churches have in that city which seems riddled by drugs and violence.

Let me ask you a final question do you think the lack of free health care, lack of good social safety nets and that the impact of violence increases piety? Or is this correlation cause confusion? In Britain we have the NHS-good free medical care and social services UK is also very irreligious. Northern Ireland though is a more violent country indeed it’s has a sectarian war but we are more religious.

Anyway sorry for rambling, best of luck.

Michael Faulkner

http://theyoungcontrarian.blogspot.com/

Zee Harrison said...

Congratulations on creating this blog.
'Black' atheist? I too have questioned myself about this very issue and although I know that 'black' is such a minor part of who I am, it enables people to find me in the blogosphere/web.
More people need to be made aware that black atheists are out there, mostly frightened of possible repercussions of ignorance but we exist. The more of us who speak out and make our presence known the better for all.
I salute you and look forward to reading more posts in the future.
Kind regards,

Zee Harrison.
http://blackwomanthinks.blogspot.com


P.S. Wrath, I have taken a brief look at your blog and hats off to you too!

P.P.S. Have you actually trade marked 'The Black Atheist'?

Ralph Dumain said...

Congratulations on your new blog and best wishes.

The Irish gentleman clearly has much to learn about the situation here in the USA. There is always a danger of being narrowly pigeonholed, yet the presence of black atheism has been so thoroughly suppressed it is important for those willing to identify themselves as such to do so. And black atheists are always in search of others.

As for what difference race should make otherwise, what should be and what is are two different things. With generational changes, not everyone lives race the same way any more or even cares about it the same way anymore. However blind this country is, it is neither color-blind nor fair and equal. Is there some special black experience in relation to religion and atheism? Well, as I said before, that depends on the situation you are in.

Is there some special viewpoint that a black atheist might bring to bear on the issues? This is a political & ideological question that doesn't admit of a single answer. Sometimes an outsider can bring a fresh perspective, not to mention an outsider among the outsiders. But again here this depends on priorities and information available in any given (national) context.

This particular entry is especially well-written, esp. the deleterious effects of black people being dependent on preachers and superstious notions of God taking care of everything. God has done a pretty deplorable job the past 400 years and his learning curve seems not to have much improved.

Stacy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stacy said...

hello.
The religion has marked the lives of all people, including those who currently are declared atheists .. It is not dangerous as long as it does not fall into fanaticism as my boyfriend fell to the generic viagra .. is that it's great!

LightLizard said...

excellent writing my friend! keep
talkin the truth!
atheism has a good chance of being heard now that we can speak without the fear of being murdered for our beliefs.
some countries are still of that medieval mentality, so we need to speak out for our brethren in those countries who are tired of the tyranny and holy retribution they have been suffering with for so long.

many thanks for your fine work!

wayne wilson

LightLizard said...

great writing my friend!
atheism has a good chance of being heard now that we can speak out without the fear of being killed for our non-belief.
we need to speak out even more, now, for our brethren in the countries that stll force medieval beliefs on their people and punish them severely for their desire for truth.
religion must die for humanity to live!

thank you!

C Lila said...

Your assertion that religious people cannot effectively establish long-term foreign policy since the world is full of "heretics, non-believers and blasphemers" is ridiculous. Coming from a country in the Middle East, I know how rare this free and diverse country is, the idea of allowing all to practice or not practive whatever they want was designed by Christians modeling society after theology as they said "If G-d himself did not intervene and force himself upon us, who are we to push it onto others" - You are obviously speaking of some mindless Americans that are Christian and not Christians in general.

C Lila said...

Your assertion that religious people cannot effectively establish long-term foreign policy since the world is full of "heretics, non-believers and blasphemers" is ridiculous. Coming from a country in the Middle East, I know how rare this free and diverse country is, the idea of allowing all to practice or not practive whatever they want was designed by Christians modeling society after theology as they said "If G-d himself did not intervene and force himself upon us, who are we to push it onto others" - You are obviously speaking of some mindless Americans that are Christian and not Christians in general.

C Lila said...

Also re. "Seeking Counsel in Clergymen" the reverse of the danger you state is also true. I do agree that many church goers/leaders are naive about the complexity of various situations BUT our society has entrusted an entire generation of people w "disorders" in numbers we have never encountered to supposed "experts" that have responded with drugs that have seriously caused unbelievable numbers of addictions, suicides and ever-increasing dependency. I know of a Christian group of psychologists/psychotherapists that are so appalled at how many people obviously have problems that belong to an entirely different sphere and are simply medicated and sent home (while acknowledging that some situations are caused by biological factors). Are you sure when you say "ivy league" you dont mean there is just some ivy growing outside whatever institution you are getting a "PhD" at ?

C Lila said...

Sometimes people actually just need to talk to someone that actually cares about their lives and doesnt see them as a number with an insurance card. Some of the best, most compassionate encounters I have had have been with nuns, pastors, monks (buddhist and catholic), imams and others that have given their lives to helping others with spirituality. Also maybe you can comment on the extensive studies doen showing that religiously committed people show higher rates of mental health, less depression and lower suicide rates than the less religiously committed

C Lila said...

re "Faith Fixes Everything" I completely agree with you however what you are referring to is actually a heresy in Christianity called Calivnist predetermination. Ever since Luther (the anti-papist turned papist himself) told everyone that their interpretation of the bible is divine, all these ancient heresies have been rising to the surface as if they are new when they have actually been crushed by master theologians before middle ages. This view does not occur in the bible and Augustine said it best "Pray as if everything depended on G-d. Act as if everything depended on you." Christians are not meant to be blindly waiting for the afterlife in a retarded rapture when it is clear Jesus was always emphasizing establishing the kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven, a place where justice, love and beauty flourish.

DubV said...

"hello.
The religion has marked the lives of all people, including those who currently are declared atheists .. It is not dangerous as long as it does not fall into fanaticism as my boyfriend fell to the generic viagra .. is that it's great!"

Funniest spam ever.

irishlassy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.