Would the world be a better place without religion?

(This is the 11th question in Brett Keane’s Atheist Challenge)

Would the world be a better place without religion?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: As someone who loves artistic expression, humanism, and scientific discovery, it would be common for most folks to say something along the lines of “What about all of the great things that people have done when inspired by religion?”

Things like:
– Assisting the poor, sick, and homeless at home and abroad
– Building beautiful churches and cathedrals
– Inspiring and commissioning incredible paintings, sculptures, and symphonies
– Promoting scientific discovery and knowledge (particularly during the Golden Age of Islam)
– The hope that religious belief brings to so many people

While I appreciate all of these things, I can’t help but think of two points:

1. All of these things can – and DO – happen without any religion as part of the equation. None of them require a belief in any deity. People would still help others out of the goodness of their hearts, artists, composers, and architects would ply their crafts with just as much passion, and scientific knowledge and discovery would have advanced much further than it has today.

2. This meager list is terribly imbalanced by the great amount of wrong done in the name of religion:

– The witch trials in both Europe and the early US colonies
– The Crusades
– The Inquisition
– Any other religious incursion
– The Taliban, and other theocracies
– The Catholic/protestant wars in Ireland
– The subjugation and physical and emotional abuse of women in any belief system that treats them as second-class citizens (or worse).
– September 11th, 2001, and every other religiously-motivated suicide bombing, big or small
– The recent Ugandan bill to allow the execution of homosexuals and AIDS victims, inspired by books against homosexuality written by American evangelicals
– Rampant (often violent) homophobia, occasionally spouted by closeted homosexuals (Ted Haggard and many others)
– The Westboro Baptist Church
– The Klan and other Christian Identity hate groups
– The Library of Alexandria (if you are unfamiliar with this story, I strongly encourage you to look it up.)
– The Holocaust (Despite what you’ve been told, Hitler was not an atheist, and used his belief in God to justify his holocaust – consider these quotes from him before propagating that myth any further.)
– The Catholic Church’s handling of the pedophile priest scandal
– General religious intolerance and discrimination of any degree
– Satanic panic, and the lives that it ruins
– Parents denying health care for their children because their god would rather be prayed to for assistance
– Megachurches (and the people they bankrupt), faith healers (and the real harm that they do), resurrectionists (yes, there are present-day preachers who claim to raise the dead), prosperity preachers (buy their new books!), and Benny Hinn (redundant, I guess, but I didn’t want to leave him out)
– Willful ignorance, lies, and fear of scientific knowledge and discovery, even in the present day (see Ben Stein’s “Expelled”, Ray Comfort, Ken Hamm, Kent Hovind, the Dover trial, and the Creation Institute for more)

…should I go on, or is that enough?

It is true that people will do good or bad without religion. There were great atrocities committed by atheists – Stalin and Pol Pot are two that are always trotted out in these types of discussions. But they just happened to be nonbelievers – they didn’t commit their atrocities in the name of atheism, the way that Hitler believed that he was doing his god’s work. Likewise, there are racial and homophobic hate groups that have nothing to do with any religious belief.

But all of the above is the product of useless superstition, and we would have been much better off without all of it. Taking religion away doesn’t completely take away terrible ideas and deeds, but it does give us less reason to partake in them.

As for the hope and joy that religion brings to so many – I’ve personally found a neverending supply of both from a real, tangible source. Like Soylent Green, it’s made out of people. 

And it’s an awesome buzz, man. You should try it sometime


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I am an atheist, a person who does not believe in the existence of any gods.

Many people don't know a lot about atheists, and have questions about them. In this blog, I do my best to answer them, to help build an understanding between atheists and theists.

Do you have a question? You can post it in the comments to any of my blog entries, and I will do my best to answer it in a new entry.


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