Religion is(n’t) a great moral teacher.

This is a summary of one important argument made by Christopher Hitchens in God is Not Great

In a thousand years are people going to see my God the way I see Apollo or Zeus–as fictional characters from a religion that is now extinct? Romans and Greeks believed their Gods were real just as much as people today believe the Christian God is real. How can a person know if God(s) exists, let alone what God wants them to do?

God is Not Great offers counter arguments for many of the current arguments that there is a God.

Argument 1: Religion is the greatest moral teacher. Hitchens’ answer: Religion is immoral and damaging.

“We believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion. And we know for a fact that the corollary holds true—that religion has caused innumerable people not just to conduct themselves no better than others, but to award themselves permission to behave in ways that would make a brothel-keeper or an ethnic cleanser raise an eyebrow” (p.6, God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens)

“Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience” (p.57, God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens)

“We have no way to quantify the damage done by telling tens of millions of children that masturbation will make them blind, or that impure thoughts will lead to an eternity of torment, or that members of other faiths including members of their own families will burn, or that venereal disease will result from kisses. Nor can we hope to quantify the damage done by holy instructors who rammed home these lies and accompanied them with floggings and rapes and public humiliations.” (pp.55-56, God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens)

“Since religion has proved itself uniquely delinquent on the one subject where moral and ethical authority might be counted as universal and absolute, I think we are entitled to at least three provisional conclusions. The first is that religion and the churches are manufactured, and that this salient fact is too obvious to ignore. The second is that ethics and morality are quite independent of faith, and cannot be derived from it. The third is that religion is—because it claims a special divine exemption for its practices and beliefs—not just amoral but immoral.” (p. 52, God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens)

Many people claim that religion is the best source and teacher of Morality. Hitchens says that not only can people be perfectly moral without religion, but that religion is often immoral itself and it often justifies immoral behavior. Roman’s killed Christians because they didn’t worship roman Gods. Christians killed Muslims during the crusades. Christians, for long periods of time in many countries killed anyone who refused to convert. Aztecs performed daily human sacrifices to appease their Gods. Buddhists in Burma were sacrificing humans as late as the 1850’s. 2 million people were strangled in India to appease the Goddess Kali in the 1500’s. The witch hunts in the U.S. and the Inquisition in Europe were used as grounds for weeding out the unbelievers and killing them.

In modern times, this type of religious violence continues. Muslims kill Jews and Christians. Christians kill Muslims and Jews. Muslims kill other Muslims who live Islam differently. Catholics kill Protestants and vice-verse. Think Islamic Jihad. Think Christian sects warring in Ireland, Belfast, and Croatia. Think Muslim sects killing each other in Iraq. Think about the ethnic cleansing of the Tutsi in Rwanda because some Christian believed the Virgin Mary gave him visions that this slaughter would usher in the return of Christ. Even the eastern religions have not been free of this type of religious persecution. Think about it. Religious differences have been used as justification for murder throughout history, and this continues today.

Religious texts often justify immoral acts. The Koran outright promotes violence. The Old Testament contains rules for the buying and selling of slaves and the sale of one’s daughters. It contains a command to kill witches. It contains passages where God orders parents to kill their disobedient children. It contains multiple accounts of God commanding genocide in order to make room for his chosen people. If these passages hadn’t been used as justification for these very things, these passages might be excusable, but they have! Currently Christians use the Old Testament to justify denying marriage to homosexuals. Currently the Old Testament’s bestowal of a “promised land” is used as justification for continued wars in the Holy Land.

In the name of God people kill each other, alter the genitalia–even of babies–to prevent sexual pleasure, continue sexism and racism, fight against the use of condoms (thereby causing more cases of AIDS), fight against vaccinations against STD’s (saying it will create promiscuity or interfere with God’s will, all while people die unnecessarily). in the name of God ignorance is prospered above scientific advancements, even above health. In the name of God people control, manipulate and oppress each other. All this, in the name of whatever God they perceive is in control of this world.

On the other hand, on a pretty frequent basis I go to church and leave wanting to be a better, more loving person. People use religion to justify horrible things, but I don’t have to do that.

What are your thoughts?

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2 Responses to Religion is(n’t) a great moral teacher.

  1. Jennifer says:

    Is religion good or bad? Are religious scriptures the word of God or not? I guess I think that since I believe God is about human development and works through us, the answer is that religion is good and bad because people are good and bad. The scriptures of God might also be a mixture, but I believe God is in them, kind of gently guiding the evolutionary process of truth. It’s true that the Old Testament represents an outdated morality in many areas, but for its time it was ahead in terms of morality. It had rules for slavery that were used to justify horrible crimes but were evolutionarily equitable for the time. For example, Hebrews enslaved to other Hebrews were released during the year of jubilee I believe,and though foreign slaves were property, they were also commanded to treat them with far more equity than the surrounding cultures. Women had to marry their rapists but this was designed to protect those women who would be outcasts. I see the problems, but I also see that they were trying to figure things out and believed in being good. The Hebrews worried about being corrupted by neighboring cultures who were committing ritual killings/ritual prostitution etc. This was wrong, but they were trying and thinking. God wasn’t just handing them all the answers from the beginning, just as he did not offer antibiotics from the beginning.

    The thing I love about religion and Christianity in particular, is that it is trying to bring people into a whole, a group. People easily go to extremes. Sometimes in an effort to promote cohesiveness we preach blind following. Dawkins talks about how atheists are so free thinking and individualistic that they have a hard time cooalescing as a group. Both are extremes. We should think about what we do or are commanded to do. Religion does make strides when the individuals within it advocate (as the daughters of zilophahad? did in the Old testament). Also I think we should also make sacrifices to form a group even of people unlike us as you find in a family or church. I’ve heard it said that there are two things you can’t do alone: be married and be a Christian and I guess be a family too.

    I know I’ve told you in the past about Dinesh’s thoughts. I decided as I was cleaning the floor for a shower I’m doing tomorrow, I listened to a couple debates. One was by NPR found on NPR.org, which debated the question: would we be better off without religion? And another was between Hitchens and Dinesh at Notre Dame. Both were good and showed the tension between ideas which you don’t get if you only read one or the other. Atheists point out the stuff you wrote above and believers point out that many crimes are done in the name of other idologies. For example Marxist utopian ideas like that religion is evil, the “opiate of the masses” inspired the Russian dictators and how many priests were killed, churches destroyed, and 100,000’s of people killed because of that? There are other examples of that. On the whole I’d say as far as destroying people is concerned they are about equal. To me it’s a human problem that gets mixed up with religion, not a religious problem necessarily, at least not as God would have it. Christianity has also given us ideas such as equality of individuals, and religious people give more charity, volunteer in the community more, have a greater sense of duty etc. I haven’t seen the article but skeptic magazine ran an article about how religion does not create violence, but that extremism does (even the extremism of the old testament). They both had good points.

    I believe, of course that relgion is a powerful force for good for me. I try to see people in kinder light and I believe I get help from God in doing this. What are your thoughts?

  2. Pingback: Be Christian: Kill Babies | findingdoubt

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