On a recent episode of The Thinking Atheist, the topic was “Does Religion Poison Everything?“, based on the subtitle of the late great Christopher Hitchens book, God Is Not Great. I sent the following, more or less, as my reply. Sadly Seth didn’t choose my reply to read on the air, but I’m sure he gets hundreds if not more, and probably many other like mine.
I agree that religion does indeed poison everything. Religion does do some good, like charity and giving people a social group and other things, but every good that religion does could be accomplished without the encumberance of the dogma and superstition. The end goal is ALWAYS “winning souls for jay-sus-ah”, or whatever magic sky daddy the particular religion thinks they have.
Religion is responsible for most hatred and war and suffering in the world. It has been used to justify some of the worst atrocities in history, from the crusades and inquisition, to slavery, to modern treatment of LGBTQ people. It is divisive and stands in the way of empathy and understanding of our fellow human beings.
Religion has almost always been on the wrong side of history with regards to not just social issues, but science as well. How many great scientific minds have been burned at the stake? Happily, in most places in the world that doesn’t happen anymore, but we still have to argue endlessly about scientific facts like evolution, and the arguments are coming from people who can’t even be bothered to understand what they’re arguing against. To be fair, in this country at least, most of them don’t understand their own holy book either, so expecting them to understand science might be a bit much.
But many would say that the so-called “moderate” or “liberal” denominations are better. They certainly do less damage but they don’t get a pass. First, extremists wouldn’t exist, or would have a much harder time, were it not for the moderates. The moderates essentially give “comfort and aid” to the extremists.
And there are more basic problems. Religions teach a false worldview unsupported by evidence. The mind that can accept fairy tale nonsense with bad or no evidence is not a properly functioning mind.
Almost all religions, and certainly the three Abrahamic religions, have a system of forgiveness for sins under which people can ultimately not be responsible for their actions. The worst mass murdering tyrant in history can get the ultimate reward if they just say “hey god sorry, my bad”.
But Hitch, as always, sums it up best. Can’t say it much better than this:
“Now, I am absolutely convinced that the main source of hatred in the world is religion and organized religion. Absolutely convinced of that. And I think it should be—religion—treated with ridicule, hatred, and contempt. And I claim that right. So when I say—as the subtitle of my book—that I think religion poisons everything, I’m not just doing what publishers like and coming up with a provocative subtitle. I mean to say it infects us in our most basic integrity. It says we can’t be moral without ‘Big Brother,’ without a totalitarian permission, means we can’t be good to one another without this, we must be afraid, we must also be forced to love someone whom we fear—the essence of sadomasochism, the essence of abjection, the essence of the master-slave relationship and that knows that death is coming and can’t wait to bring it on. I say that is evil, and though I do, some nights, stay home, I enjoy more the nights when I go out and fight against this ultimate wickedness and ultimate stupidity.” -Christopher Hitchens