The barbarity of religion

It is sad that so many people in the world grant religions a cloak of respectability which they just do not deserve. Whatever good they may provide through charity work or support systems is no doubt completely overshadowed by the harm they do in impeding education, preventing equal rights, stifling free expression and acts of cruelty to both humans and other animals.

The supposed good religions do through charity is vastly overestimated and in any case counteracted by their tax-exempt status in many parts of the world. The Council for Secular Humanism has a report containing an analysis of the charity of religions in the United States.

For instance, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS or Mormon Church), which regularly trumpets its charitable donations, gave about $1 billion to charitable causes between 1985 and 2008. That may seem like a lot until you divide it by the twenty-three-year time span and realize this church is donating only about 0.7 percent of its annual income. Other religions are more charitable. For instance, the United Methodist Church allocated about 29 percent of its revenues to charitable causes in 2010 (about $62 million of $214 million received). One calculation of the resources expended by 271 U.S. congregations found that, on average, “operating expenses” totaled 71 percent of all the expenditures of religions, much of that going to pay ministers’ salaries. Financial contributions addressing the physical needs of the poor fall within the remaining 29 percent of expenditures. While these numbers may be higher as a percentage of income than typical charitable giving by corporations, they are not hugely higher (depending on the religion) and are substantially lower in absolute terms. Wal-Mart, for instance, gives about $1.75 billion in food aid to charities each year, or twenty-eight times all of the money allotted for charity by the United Methodist Church and almost double what the LDS Church has given in the last twenty-five years.

If only it were needless to say, but there is no requirement of religion for someone to be charitable. The so-called comfort provided by religion is really just taking advantage of people in vulnerable situations and amounts to little more than lying to them. Part of the problem is that religions just do not care what the truth is, even if they sometimes claim otherwise. In India Sanal Edamaruku is facing arrest for revealing that a miracle was actually the result of a leaky drain and capillary action. That was after an Indian bishop claimed the church was interested in scientific explanations. While it undoubtedly makes some people feel better I believe the truth is worth more than a little discomfort, especially when those lies are tied with far more insidious ideas.

These other ideas may not necessarily be particularly harmful in themselves but violate individual’s rights to choice and bodily integrity. Or they may just promote bigotry with the completely unfounded assertion that natural disasters are due to the “immoral” actions of individuals. Far more worrying are when scriptures are read to actually give people license to kill other beings, even in particularly brutal ways.

I’ve referenced William Lane Craig’s absurd assertion about animal suffering before because it still shocks me that someone who is supposedly educated and a leading religious figure can hold such a view.

Thus, amazingly, even though animals may experience pain, they are not aware of being in pain. God in His mercy has apparently spared animals the awareness of pain. This is a tremendous comfort to us pet owners. For even though your dog or cat may be in pain, it really isn’t aware of it and so doesn’t suffer as you would if you were in pain.

Yes, it is amazing that someone thinks an animal experiences pain but isn’t aware it’s in pain when every part of it’s behaviour and physiology suggests otherwise. But when people truly believe this then it can’t come as a surprise when they are willing to bury a live kitten in concrete.

Some people might think it’s just in the “uncivilised” parts of the world where these things such as children being stoned to death for the way they dress occur, but it’s not. The kitten in the concrete happened in the US, the claim of natural disasters influenced by human immorality came from the UK and in South Africa we’ve seen a church leader call for an artist to be stoned to death. Religions are barbaric no matter where they are found.

I’m saying that all religious people are barbaric or that all members of a religion support the actions of their fellow believers. What I am saying is that the religious establishment itself is barbaric and the good people that identify as religious lend those rotten bits an element of respectability that they do not deserve. I am encouraging believers to truly look at their religion and ask themselves some tough questions.

Do you truly believe the claims that your religion makes?
If not then recognise that you don’t belong there any more. It’s time to move away and truly become your own person.

Do you agree with the actions of your fellow believers?
If not then stand up against them, make your voice heard. Even if you still want to maintain your religious identity surely we can agree that the current behaviour of a number of religions is unacceptable and work to change them for the better of all life?

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2 thoughts on “The barbarity of religion

  1. Even those without religion can be barbaric. Is there any evidence to suggest that a non-religous society would be a less barbaric one?

  2. Kevin: Removing religion will not necessarily create a utopia. However it should eliminate, or greatly reduce, those problems that are caused and motivated through religious beliefs, such as terrorist bombings, gender inequality, homophobia and suppression of certain scientific truths. Religion is pretty much ubiquitous so evidence for what happens when it is gone is tough to come by. What we can see are those crimes motivated by religious teachings and societies, Northern Europe being the usual example, where societies work better than normal and where there are fewer religious believers. There is starting to be work on the topic but I am behind on my reading there. If you could try reading “Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings
    of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions” by Phil Zuckerman which I’ve been meaning to read. I think that should provide a better answer for you. Though I would caution you that I’ve heard the latest findings causally link social inequality to religiosity so there’s more to it than just religion but then again those inequalities are already arising in a religious society. I’m not sure there’s a place where the opposite has been observed.

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