Wednesday, October 10, 2007

An answer to a question about faith

Christopher Hitches asks this question (near the end of the article):

I should like, for the continued vigor of this discussion, to repeat the challenge that I have several times offered the faithful in print and on the air. Can they name a moral statement or action, uttered or performed by a religious person, that could not have been uttered or performed by an unbeliever? I am still waiting, after several months, for a response to this. It carries an incidental corollary: I have also asked large and divergent audiences if they can think of a wicked action or statement that derived directly from religious faith, and you know what? There is no tongue-tied silence at THAT point. Everybody can instantly think of an example.


Actually, I'd argue strongly that few, if any, wicked actions are derived directly from religious faith. I think they are done by people, who justify their actions based upon religious faith.

The truth is that religion can be a tool to gain power, and power evokes corruption.

The Inquisition, for example, couldn't have happened without religion... but religion did not cause the Inquisition, it merely set the stage, it merely created the ability. It took human evil to carry it out.

Okay, but if we threw away religion, wouldn't that mean that a future Inquisition could not happen? Sure, there wouldn't be prosecutions for heresy against the dominant religion, because there wouldn't be any religions to gain dominance. But who is to say that something equally nasty wouldn't happen? Religion might not make people into saints, but the lack of religion doesn't make them any nicer, either!

It's true: some evil people have found (and are currently finding, and will find in the future) ways to use religion for evil deeds. But if we took the "religion" tool away, there are still many tools to use. While it's nice to think that the conflicts and greed and indifference fostered by religious battles would just go away, it takes a much more generous view of human nature than I'm willing to grant.

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