religion is harmless

My dear blogging buddy Ark is convinced that religions have nothing of value to offer humans. While I share his frustration about harm brought to our world by some people of a religious persuasion, I think it’s unhelpful to get too carried away and dramatically claim religion poisons everything. There are a number of considerations that actually make me think religion itself is relatively harmless.

the actions of some are not the actions of all

Most people who follow a religion live their life broadly in the same way as those of us who don’t. They eat, they sleep, they work and they try to have good relations with those around them. Just as I don’t see sense in equating anything I do to Stalin (a random atheist), most religious people see no sense in equating their actions with that of an Islamic terrorist or a Westboro Baptist Church member (random religious people). Just because we share one quality, does not mean we are liable to act in similar ways.

crimes committed in the name of religion don’t outweigh crimes committed in the absence of religion

Catholic priests don’t abuse children any more than the standard level of society. This does not excuse their behaviour (which I discuss in more detail on this post) but it’s useful to bear in mind that child abuse unfortunately happens in many settings, most commonly within families. The only majority culprit is the male of our species.

Furthermore, we need only look at non-religious regimes such as Mao and Stalin to see that atheists are just capable of committing large-scale atrocities as religious people. Religion doesn’t tell us who the ‘bad guys’ are, it just gives us a different set of motivations. And, once more, the only majority culprit is the male of our species. 

religion is natural and evolves with society

Every human society in every isolated part of the world has developed some kind of religion. It is one of the most natural developments of the human species – we crave answers, we crave comfort, we crave order. So, we imagine and create answers that give a measure of comfort and order. Why be angry at what our nature gives us? We can more usefully help religions evolve into kinder interpretations that better suit our current understanding of life- as many are naturally doing. For example, more and more Christian denominations are accepting women leaders and same sex couples.

religion can have a positive impact on lives

As with every other human endeavour, religious insitutions are never without their flaws. But individuals within these institutions often bring comfort for people in times of grief, they provide valuable services to vulnerable sections of our communities and they provide a framework for life that many people are lacking. It would be foolish to pretend that the work done by church groups with families, with refugees, with homeless people, with old people, is all for nothing, or all has sinister ulterior motives. Yes, other people could provide these services, but realistically, what percentage of non-religious people dedicate themselves to these groups of people for free?

conclusion

In the context of human behaviour and the history of our societies, religion is crucial. Without its uniting force, strong communities could never have been established, and humans would likely still be isolated in small, constantly warring tribal groupings. I’d like to think humanity can do better, but realistically with the diversity of circumstance and the challenges many of us face just living life, is it reasonable to assume that social media, football or secular humanism have what it takes to provide a binding force when times get tough? Let’s respect religion as the vital part of our development that it is, and celebrate the good that it brings, while we still have it. All too soon it may be a relic of our history that we sorely miss.

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