Religion In Itself Is A Purely Positive Force In The World
Despite all the bad press religion gets from militant atheists, organised religion is purely benevolent. Though it has undoubtedly been used as a pretext for many evil deeds throughout history, from the Crusades through to Nick Griffin, this does not mean that religion is malevolent itself (indeed quite the opposite). Furthermore, religions are not opposed to science in any way.
Please cast your vote after you've read the arguments.
You can also add to the debate by leaving a comment at the end of the page.
Religion Does NOT Cause War.
Though it is true that religion has been used as a pretext for countless wars throughout history, that does not mean that it is in itself warlike or malevolent. Many people believe that the USA and Britain invaded Iraq for oil, for example, but I imagine very few of those people believe that oil is therefore "evil". Even if they do, it's unlikely they'll go as far as to give up their cars and all plastic items because of it. To use another analogy, labelling religion as "evil" because of supposedly religious wars is like saying the entire sport of football - from the Premiership right down to little kids playing in a park - is "evil" because of football hooliganism. The football is the excuse for the violence, not the cause of it.
Furthermore, the fact that religion is used as a pretext for so many wars is actually proof that it is inherently benevolent. I'll explain that seemingly converse assertion like this:
If a war leader were to justify violence by saying "We're going to war because I want to conquer the world and satisfy my megalomania" it is unlikely he would get much support, because people aren't willing to sacrifice their lives to please a bloodthirsty maniac.
People would be much more likely to support his war if he justified it by saying "We're going to war to defend our country" because people value their country and their freedom and are more likely to fight and die in a war to defend them.
However, what matters most to a religious person, more than their country and their earthly freedom, is their religion, so this hypothetical war leader would be able to whip up maximum popular support by saying "We're going to war to defend our religion".
In answer to the counter-argument opposite, if everyone were acting for their own interests we would have anarchy (and therefore violence). And yes, people do like to go to war for a higher cause, but they will also go to war for personal gain as well. People will fight to defend themselves for example, and in a less civilised and peaceful society people would fight to enrich themselves (as indeed mercenaries still do). Besides, people do not commit violent crimes for a higher cause (and this includes war crimes); they do it for personal gain.
Next I would like to address the argument that religion is used as a pretext for war and if there was no religion fewer wars would occur. I suppose you could say that (though if there was no religion warmongers would simply use a different pretext), but what if you substituted the notion of religion with the notion of nationhood? Countless wars have patriotic motives, so by the same logic you would be arguing for the dissolution of government, which would lead to anarchy.
The hypothetical argument offered here seems to counter it's own logic. It is true, people would not follow a person to war if they stated it was for the purposes of satisfying their own ego. If however, they gave a passionate reason for going to war, people would follow that leader into war. Ergo, religion causes war by giving people a uniting reason to fight. If everyone were acting for their own interests war would not occur. It is when people see themselves as fighting for a higher cause than themselves that wars occur. Religion gives people cause to go to war, this is the same as saying that religion causes war. for if there were no religion, no unifying reason to fight, wars would not occur.
In addition to this why should something that does not cause wars be positive. I don't cause wars it doesn't mean I'm positive. If it prevented wars (which it clearly doesn't) then it would be posistive. At best your argument suggests that it is medicore
Religion Does Not Condone Destructive War
On top of all this, no religion advocates war, especially not those two most accused of starting conflicts, Christianity and Islam. Jesus of course said that if any of his followers was attacked they were to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-42 and Luke 6:27-36) and to be merciful even to their enemies, a message reinforced by the parables of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21-35).
As for Islam, much is made of that religion's supposed tolerance of warfare, summed up in the doctrine of Jihad. Jihad in itself is a twofold doctrine, with one form (Greater Jihad) referring to the inner war within oneself against temptation. The other form of Jihad (Lesser Jihad) does admittedly take the form of physical warfare, but it must be strictly defensive (i.e., to evict a physically invading army) and its limits are strictly defined. Damaging farmland or residential areas is outlawed, as is the execution of prisoners, and any harm to civilians (whether Muslim or non-Muslim) is strictly forbidden. Thus the 9/11 attacks, to take a famous example, could not claim the status of Lesser Jihad as they were carried out with the explicit aim of killing civilians.
To take the alcohol analogy, alcohol is a drug, which can be enjoyed responsibly or irresponsibly. Obviously the manufacturers ask people who buy their products to drink responsibly, but if you strip them out of the equation alcohol is a drink. Just that. Whereas religion's very nature is benevolence; you can't be an evil person and simultaneously be religious because to be religious is by definition to be good. Whereas being a drinker does not mean necessarily that you are a responsible one.
In a nutshell:
You are still a drinker whether you're responsible or not; you are not still religious if you simultaneously (and wilfully) do evil things.
Whilst religion may state that war and violence is not condoned, this is nonetheless what religion 'causes'.
The logical argument that can be used to support this is a comparison with alcohol. Yes, the manufacturers of alcoholic beverages state that drinking should be done 'responsibly', yet the media attention they create and the hype around their products nevertheless 'causes' irresponsible drinking. The disclaimer in both religion and alcohol producers as to what they do and do not condone do not reflect what they actually cause. Put in the exact context of this debate, whilst the words maybe a purely positive force (deceptively so) the effect of religion as a whole is not a wholly positive force.
Religious Doctrine Preaches Altruism
Quite simply, all religions advocate the doing of good deeds. To take some examples from three of the largest and best-known religions:
Jesus said: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic also." - Luke 6:27-29 (the same is also recorded in Matthew 5:38-42)
A similar message is contained in the Parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), and the Parable of The Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21-35) teaches Christians to always be forgiving to others.
Jesus summed up his teachings in two commandments: to love God and to love others [literally: your neighbour] as you love yourself [i.e. to do unto others as you would have them do unto you]. (Matthew 23:34-40 and Mark 12:28-34; also Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18).
Of the 5 Pillars of Islam, the five everyday duties of Muslims, four (Shahada, Salah, Sawm and Hajj) are to do with acceptance of God, prayer, fasting and pilgrimage, the day-to-day acts of religious devotion. The other, Zakat, consists of the giving of wealth (2.5% of the Muslim's wealth) to charity. It should be noted that this is only a base amount, and that Islam condones charity and selflessness.
The central teachings of Buddhism are summed up in the Noble Eightfold Path, which consists of Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood [meaning that a Buddhist should not be employed in a job which cause harm to others], Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
Although the scriptures may condone peace and love, people don't necessarily practice what the preach. Or, in the case of the biggest offenders, practice what Jesus preached.
He said to love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you, and to turn the other cheek.
That would all be great most of the major churches in the world actually listened to their savior! If Jesus were to be resurrected once again in our modern time, there is no way that he would be a Catholic, Mormon, or any of the other sects that alienate anyone who's different, offer help only to those willing to convert, and do anything but turn the other cheek.
Did George Bush, a very religious born-again Christian, turn the other cheek when he was attacked on 9/11 (an event where thousands of innocent people were killed in the name of religion) and decided to lie about to attack a country that had no connection? Killing more of his own soldiers than people were killed in the original attacks, and god knows how many innocent Iraqis?
The fact is that in many cases the more religious (at least in terms of how their church says they should be) one gets, the farther from the message, which is usually good and peaceful, they get.
It is organized religion that causes the radicalization that causes violence. There is no reason spirituality alone should necessarily cause the violence that organized religion does. In fact, a deep level of spirituality probably puts one at peace. But organized religion being shoved down children's throats causes violence and hatred, and strays people from the good intentions of the founders of their religion.
While i do not agree that organized religion is a problem (religion has always been organized in some form in almost every culture since the beginning of man's history). I do agree that there is a lack of DOING the will of God, a proper heart condition, a show of piety but living false to the word of God, and as was already stated, a lack of listening to Jesus, and not to forget, interpretation. While the Scriptures contain a clear message from the Creator, it is WHOSE DOING THE PREACHING OR INTERPRETING that causes Christianity to falter in many areas. Jesus himself stated that "these people honor me with their LIPS, but their HEARTS are far removed from me". Even though he was speaking about a vast majority in the nation of Israel at that time, Jesus words ring all the more clear even today. In effect, Jesus says that a vast majority of US give him lip service. Even religious doctrine today is mainly lip service, and no true practicing of the love of the Christ. Jesus also gave a series of "Woes" to the religious leaders of his day. These religious leaders had a duty to unlock the scriptures to the people, but did not. But instead referred to them as "amharets" or people of the dust. In short, although the message of the Scriptures or religion may be of toleration, love, peace, etc. it is those who carry this message that are the problem. Not all, but quite a many.
Religion's Net Impact On The World Is A Positive One
Whenever atheists try to cast religion in a bad light, they cite a long list of bad events connected to religion - war, terrorism, priests abusing their positions, religious "indoctrination", et cetera.
However, religion is also responsible for much charity work across the work, and in the past almost all hospitals and hospices for the old or homeless were run by religious organisations. Religion is also beneficial in the day-to-day impact it can have on people's lives, the way it helps people through times of bereavement or other hardship or simply brightens their day.
Coming back to charity and altruism, while it would be unfair and downright false to say that religion is necessary to bring out the moralistic spark in people - obviously atheists and agnostics are as capable of being generous and selfless - religion provides a motive force to channel that innate goodwill, and to remind people to exercise it. Religion also acts as a definitive authority on morality.
So to say that its posistive your addminting that it does a lot of bad stuff but it still gives to charity. I'm not relgious and I give to chairty (in fact I am on the committee of one). As an American might say - 'Go figure!'.
Your argument also suggest that the only reason people give to chairty is to prevent gods wrath. You may have stated that 'obviously atheists and agnostics are as capable of being generous and selfless' but, according to you, there is no reason for them to be as 'religion acts as a definitive authroity on morality'. They would have to accpet religion to accpet the morality as they don't accept religion they have a different take on morality.
Just because 'religion acts as a definitive authroity on morality' doesn;t mean it is posistive or correct. It is totaly circular and falls into all the probelms of deontology.
It is well noted that religion has done good for others in times of need, especially in times of crisis. But religions OVERALL RECORD has not been a laudable one. Even in Jesus day, it was the religious leaders of his day that instigated his death, thus setting a pattern for a long line of those who pretend to be religious, but cannot look Christ in the eye. And to say that religion also acts as a "definitive authority on morality" is to be putting itself in an even more dangerous position to be judged by God. For even God himself, in the book of Revelation partially holds religion or Babylon the Great (religious entities collectively, apart from obedience to God's true worship, represented by a harlot, because of the spiritual fornication committed by it. Religions involvement in war, government and various God-dishonoring industries) responsible for much of the bloodshed in the earth - Revelations 17-5,6, Revelations 18. Why don't we just say that it is the SCRIPTURES that acts as the "definitive authority on morality", that would be better. As for religion itself: rampant immorality, homosexuality, blessing war, various abuses just to name a few, goes on almost daily even among so-called religious people, is this the authoritative stance that religion is taking? No wonder so many people are becoming more and more turned-off by religious hypocracy. Scriptures and religion are both at odds with each other especially for those who do not hold the Holy Scriptures as the authority.
Religion & Science Are Not "At War" (Indeed It Is Logically Impossible)
Religion and science are both dedicated to seeking the truth, but they are very different sort of truths. Science and maths - rather obviously - seek scientific and mathematical truths, while religion seeks moral, spiritual and theological truth. The two are quite different. You wouldn't look in a biology textbook if you wanted to know whether if it was right or wrong to kill someone, just as you wouldn't look in the Bible, the Torah or the Koran (or any other religious text) to find out how many electrons a fluoride ion has. It is ridiculous to apply scientific principles to matters of religion, spirituality and philosophy, just as it is ridiculous to the apply the principles of those three to science.
Seeing as religion and science occupy quite separate fields within the grand corpus of human knowledge, it is ridiculous to say that they "at war" over anything.
It is therefore ridiculous for people like Prof Richard Dawkins, the most prolific atheist of our time, to suggest that we have to make a choice between religion and science. That would be like telling people they have to make a choice between maths and english, or between art and science. Both of those latter choices would be ridiculous ones to impose on people, as the two things both serve different purposes. The same is true of any choice between science and religion.
Evolution is in no way contradicted by the Judeo-Christian creation story outlined in Genesis. The latter does not explain how God created humankind, and seeing as science suggests that evolution is the most plausible way to explain our origins, it would seem that would be the most likely way to interpret God's creation.
To take the argument opposite, actually the genealogy in the Bible does stretch back more than 6000 years: to the year 4004 BC (6013 years as of 2009). The genealogy could also be stretched back beyond that, as in ancient times terms such as "son" and "father" could be used metaphorically to talk about descendants and ancestors as well as immediate family members (Jesus, for example, was sometimes referred to as the "Son of David", though the two were separated by dozens of generations). Any genealogy could thus be stretched indefinitely.
Anyway, the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden is not always taken literally by Judeo-Christian theologians; Adam is used throughout the Bible as a synonymn for humankind as a whole, and the story of the Fall can be interpreted as a metaphor for the rejection by humanity as a whole of God (stretching through time to the present day).
Evolution is contradicted by Genesis given that Eve was created out of one of Adam's ribs, along with the genealogy of mankind stretching back to no more than 6,000 years. It is a scientific fact that homo sapiens (what we now consider to be human kind in its current form, its "wise" form), came to be between roughly 100,000 - 250,000 years ago. A large margin, to be sure, but in no way encompassing of the Bible's account.
What is 'religion in itself'?
What exactly are we addressing here? Even if we isolate organised religions, instead of just questioning religion as a more vague concept, or specific religious beliefs, what is organised religion in and of itself without referring to its individual organisations, their heads, the clergy and the laiety? We cannot blame a concept of organised religion independent of its members for the negative aspects of religion, but neither can we prove such a thing exists. And we certainly can't say that no individual religious leader or even a religious organisation as a whole hasn't been at some point a negative force in the world!
The question posed opposite is a perfectly valid one, to which this is my response:
By religion "in itself" I mean religion as a concept, i.e. of a transcendental moral code and (except for atheistic faiths such as Buddhism and Taoism) belief in the God or Gods who created it (and indeed the Universe as a whole).
Though it is correct to say that all religious organisations have at some point had some sort of negative impact on the world, that is not to say that their overall impact is negative, or that they are inherently evil.
The same also goes for religious leaders, though I'm sure many Christians and Muslims would see Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, as exceptions to this rule.
P.S. Laity is not spelt with an "e".
This isn't even arguable: one valid "against" point destroys the argument.
To say religion's a purely positive force in the world is implausible. With one valid "against" point, the argument is in shambles. To say it is net positivity would be arguable, overall positive would be a little less arguable, but to say purely positive is to ignore man unjustly dead because of religion, every failed scientific discovery because of religion, and every family torn apart because of religion.
So your argument is as follows:
If you take out the bad bits of religion (which are clearly caused by something else - although what that is I'm not going to say) religion is all good.
Yes, but are those things are not consequences of religion as a system of belief, they are consequences of someone acting in the name of religion in a very un-religious way. The Bible says "Thou shalt not kill", so right there any Christian or Jew acting properly by their religion should not kill at all (though I'm sure many Christian and Jewish theologians would say that in some extreme situations it may be justifiable), let alone injustly. It would be stupid to say that evil things have never been committed in the name of religion, but those evil things are against everything that the world's major religions stand for.
Some organised religion does inevitably cause some evil
The key word here is organised. Organised religion is religion which unifies a large group of believers under a common organised or institutional hierarchy. It is undeniable that organised religion has caused evil in the past and may continue to do so. One example of a religious institution which has caused a great many evils in its time is the Roman Catholic Church. Note that the proponents of the initial argument of the debate claim that all organised religion is a purely positive force, therefore only one religion not being "purely positive" invalidates the argument.
The Roman Catholic Church has, throughout the centuries, been responsible for a few major evils such as the crusades and the Inquisitions (most notably the Spanish Inquisition) and a host of lesser perversions, from the literal sale of salvation in the form of Papal bulls in the middle ages to the contemporary condemning of the use of condoms and the irrational denial that they help prevent AIDS.
None of these decisions were taken, and in many cases not condoned, by the masses of believers, but these beliefs were thrust upon by "more holy men", members of the higher ecclesiastical orders.
The underlying problem of organised religion can be summarise in the following statements:
Given the first and second statements, there are probably similar amounts of people with evil intentions within organised religions as without. In a disorganised religion, where each member holds similar but flexible beliefs and does not hold sway over others, this would not be a problem. The problem arises with the third statement: even the relatively few truly cruel and evil people in the world or in a said religion may push others into evil acts through their "divine authority".
While none of this implies that organised religion is necessarily evil, it does mean that it can be evil, therefore is not "purely good". On the other hand, disorganised or personal religion (or absence of religion) have, in principle, the same benefits as organised religion minus the risk or one evil individual leading the whole group astray.
In reaction to the opposing argument:
Before I begin, I thank the opposition for the complement to my reasoning. I am deeply gratified that my argument was appreciated.
First, I clarify that "organised religion" is a term quoted from the initial argument in the debate. This argument is about organised religion, and organised religion is by definition religion centred around an institution, though how strictly you define "institution" may vary from one doctrine to another. This debate is not about religious teachings or general or personal beliefs.
This leads neatly on to the second point. I agree entirely with the statement that evil committed in the name of an ideology (by ideology I mean any world-view, including religion) is not the same as evil caused by an ideology.
However, we are not talking about an ideology, we are talking about organised religion. Organised religion is not an ideology itself, but a group that follows a certain ideology. The Roman Catholic Church is an organised religion, whose ideologies may vary slightly over time but can be described as a distinct modality of Christianity, but an institution may not always follow its principles. It is perfectly true that Christianity did not cause the crusades: the Roman Catholic Church did. Hence, while evil is committed in religion's name, it is committed by the religious institutions that constitute organised religion. Religion itself cannot be evil, organised religion, which is essentially different, can.
There: I bear to you the heart of my argument. However, at risk of a sharp anticlimax, there are still points that I wish to address.
Absolutely. I agree entirely. However, a position of authority does make manipulation considerably easier, and such positions of "divine authority" are only present within organised religions.
Finally, the last paragraph, which I am afraid presents a basic fallacy.
If you will allow me to reduce the arguments to its basic claims:
However, here religion is, again, confused with organised religion. The statement above is true, but irrelevant. It was never stated in my argument that an evil act could be religious, merely that an act of evil could be carried out by an organised religion, as an institution may not always follow its principles.
It is difficult to argue with much of the reasoning opposite, save for the fact that it somewhat misses the point. Obviously a lot of evil has been committed in the name of most religions, including the Roman Catholic Church (to take the example cited opposite).
However, to say that something evil has been committed IN THE NAME OF something is not the same as saying that that something CAUSED the evil.
The main crux of the argument opposite is that "organised" religion (rather than religion itself) is a faulty concept, as individuals hold power over a number of others and are thus capable of influencing them to evil. Disregarding the fact that an evil individual does not need to hold an official position in order to exert a negative influence over others, the conclusion at the foot of the argument opposite shows its basic fallacy.
It says: "while none of this implies that organised religion is necessarily evil, it does mean that it can be evil, therefore it is not "purely positive"". This fails to take into account the fact that, seeing as evil is inherently contradictory to the most basic religious teachings, an evil act cannot possibly be religious.
Withing certain Religions, there are practices that are considered wrong in our society but when done with Religious purposes are accepted, an example is Rape. In some religions husbands can forcibly have intercourse even if they're wifes do not want to. In societies were Religion is law, example Islamic law, there seems to be more accepted violence, examples of this are Fatwas, and .whipping,
What do you think?