A term pape on religion I wrote
Hey guys, I just recently finished this paper for my english class and thought i would share it. Warning, its 10pgs
The Adverse Effects of Religion
Religion has been by far the most destructive and divisive force in human history. Believers are willing to give up everything they own, and to kill themselves and others, all in the name of a superstitious belief that is completely lacking in evidence. Religion compels the abandonment of all rational thinking, hinders scientific advancement, incites violence on every level, and is harmful to society.
War, by its very nature, is destructive and costly to a society. Throughout human history, religion has played a role in the majority of conflicts between nations. A prominent example is the Crusades. The Crusades were a series of holy wars launched by the nations of Christendom against the Muslim nations in the Middle East between 1096 and 1291. The result of these religious wars was the destruction of an advanced Arabian world. Although the West failed in every crusade after the first one, the societies in the Middle East were set back a thousand years. These events sowed the seeds of hatred for the West that is evident even in today’s society in the form of terrorist attacks.
Religious violence was by no means confined to Europe and the Middle East. At the same time in Central America, the Aztecs and Tlaxcalans were waging wars of their own over religion. The two nations fought a series of wars called the “Flowery Wars” for the express purpose of obtaining human sacrifices for their respective gods (Meyers 65).
Perhaps the most famous period of religious strife and harm to society in the West is the period that followed shortly after the reformation of the Catholic Church. Between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Christendom experienced a series of major fractures. The nations of Europe split along Catholic and Protestant lines, and wage war on one another over these differences. The Catholic king of Spain drove his nation into bankruptcy building an armada to destroy Protestant England and restore the old faith. A series of seven religious civil wars tore France apart. Thirteen thousand Huguenots were butchered as a result of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (Dunn 35). In the Balkans, Christian parents mutilated their own children to keep them from being pressed into the Muslim ranks of the Ottoman janissaries. Germany was transformed into a wasteland by the Thirty Years War, a conflict over religion that just about every major European power participated in. This conflict alone would produce casualty rates that would not be met until the advent of the machine gun and World War One (Dunn 90). It was truly an age when society suffered nationally sponsored slaughter in the name of religion.
Luckily for humanity, with the exception of the Six Days War in Israel, the age of nations waging war out of religious fanaticism ended with the rise of reason, science, and the enlightenment. Unfortunately, society suffers from a much more prevalent form of religious violence on another level. Violence perpetrated by one religious group on another, without the leadership of an official government, existed long before the development of nation states, and can still be seen today.
A major form of entertainment for Roman Pagans was watching Christians fight to the death and be eaten alive by wild beasts in the coliseum. Later, in the Middle Ages, when Christianity had become the major religion, Christians lashed out at Pagans and Jews for false charges of witchcraft and spreading the plague. The violence was not limited to Pagans, Jews, and Muslims. Other Christians were persecuted over doctrinal differences as well. In 1209, the Pope ordered a crusade against a Christian sect in southern France named the Albigensians. These were nonviolent people who minded their own business, and just wanted to live their lives in peace and prosperity. In the Pope’s first attack, seven thousand of the Albigensians were hacked to death while seeking refuge in a church (Tierney 358). The middle ages saw the rise of an institution that would perpetuate the fear and violence in society for centuries to come, the Inquisition. While some Christians may disagree, the Inquisition was not a perversion of Christian doctrine; it was an expression of Christian doctrine (The God Who Wasn’t There).
As Europeans settled the Americas, they brought religion with them, and violence soon followed. Perhaps one of the most famous examples of this outpouring of religious violence is the Salem witch trials. Fear and superstition led the Puritans to burn members of their own community. Religion was also used to justify one of the most immoral blights on civilized society: slavery. “You may buy male and female slaves; although you may also buy them from the children of your serfs (Holy Bible, Lev. 25:44).”
As American society developed and moved westward, so too did religious violence. Between 1857 and 1858, the United States fought a lukewarm Utah war with the Mormon Church. As a result, 30,000 Mormons burned their homes and retreated into the desert to avoid capture (Poll). This violence reached perhaps its most horrific form in the twentieth century.
The Holocaust is a prime example of the systematic extermination of a group of people specifically for religious reasons. The Bible encourages the slaughter of those who do not follow Jesus. In the gospel of Luke Jesus proclaims “But bring those enemies of mine here who did not want me made king over them, and slaughter the in my presence!” (Holy Bible, Luke 19:27)
This type of religious hatred is the most common in today’s society. From 1992 to 1995, 200,000 people were massacred as a result of the conflict in Bosnia (Bosnia Genocide). Presently, religious violence can be seen just about every time one turns on the news. In the Middle East, suicide bombings are a common occurrence and fact of life. Between September 30, 2000, and April 29, 2007 alone, 4,419 people have been murdered and 31,302 injured by suicide attacks just in Israel and Palestine (Palestine Red Crescent Society). These suicide bombers are clearly motivated by religion. They are so sure that by blowing up men, women, and children for their religion, they are assured a place in paradise. The fanatical hijackers who killed over three thousand people on September 11th, 2001, were motivated by the same belief. A clear impediment to the establishment of a stable society in Iraq is the ongoing religious civil war. Everyday new bodies are being discovered victims of the Sunni-Shiite conflict. Between February 14th, and March 31st, 2007, 355 people were executed as a direct result of the religious feud (Raghavan).
The last level of religiously incited violence is not as common as group versus group violence, but still violates human rights nonetheless. Direct person to person hate crimes incited by religious differences are on the rise. In 2005, British police documented 50,000 religiously motivated hate crimes. Of those crimes, 11,799 were in metropolitan areas alone, 1,359 of which were targeted against homosexuals (Home Office). In 2004, police in the United States reported 9,258 victims of hate crimes. Of that number, 16.7% were victims of religious incited hate crimes, 15.6% because of their sexual orientation (Hate Crime).
Religion leads to the dehumanization of individuals based upon their sexual orientation and different confessions of faith. Dean Wycoff, a spokesman for Moral Majority in San Francisco, believes that homosexuality should be a crime equal to that of murder. He and other Christian religious leaders welcome the day when the government would execute people for homosexuality (The God Who Wasn’t There). As twisted as these views may sound to a rational person, they are in fact the “will of God” as laid out in the Bible. “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both have committed a detestable act. They must be put to death” (Holy Bible, Lev. 18:22). When it comes to what he approves of and does not approve of, God is very straight forward. It is interesting to wonder why moderate theists pick and choose which of God’s commands to obey.
Another target of religiously motivated hate are abortion clinics and the people who run them. Between 1977 and 1994, there were 1,700 violent attacks against clinics that left five people dead (Abortion Clinic Violence). Religion can provide an excuse to disobey the rule of law, and can justify anything, even murder. In 1994, Reverend Paul Hill murdered abortion clinic Doctor John Britton and his escort James Barrett. In 2003, Hill became the first person to be executed for a crime committed against an abortion clinic. Throughout his trial, Hill refused to show remorse. He was confident that he would receive a grand reward in Heaven.
Religion has clearly given cause for violence for well over two thousand years, and continues to do so to this very day. Waging war is one of the most terrible acts human beings can do to one another, and yet violence has been carried out against other people on every level of organization in the name of religion. Suicide bombers are not afraid to die since their religion assures them that by murdering innocent people, they will go to Heaven. There is a magnitude of different religions, all claiming to be the one true religion, all with their own would-be-suicide-bombers. In an age with weapons of mass destruction, the danger to society from this kind of fanatical belief is self-evident.
Violence is not the only way in which religion is harmful to society. Religion proves equally harmful when it impedes scientific research. People benefit from the fruits of scientific labor every day. Everything a civilized person has and uses is the result of a long series of scientific advancement. Everything from how we work, how we travel, how we construct our homes, even down to the fabrics of our clothes, all are products of science. The Bible was written by primitive man, and religion seeks to return society to those primitive beginnings. Science and religion are fundamentally opposite in how they operate. Science is ever probing, ever asking questions to advance the knowledge of mankind and benefit society. Religion does not attempt to find answers for the betterment of all. Instead, religion asks the believer to abandon all rational thought. It compels the follower not to probe, not to question, to accept certain ideas completely without proof. This kind of blind obedience is dangerous, as shown earlier.
One of the areas of science that religion tries the hardest to impede is in the field of medical research. A prime example of a field of study that has the potential to help millions in society is stem cell research. The scientists use embryos when they are in their blastocyst stage. These embryos contain 150 cells, 30 of which are stem cells. These stem cells are at a point in their development where they have not yet begun to become specialized cells. This provides scientists with a wealth of possibilities for curing a host of diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and spinal injuries. A cure to any one of these diseases would be of great benefit to the millions of people in society suffering. Religion, however, firmly stands in the way of this breakthrough. Theists believe that a human embryo is equal to a full grown person. The religious right ignores the fact that the embryos can not feel anything, can not think, and are not self aware (Harris 167). There is a vast difference between a full grown person and an embryonic stem cell. Full grown people are self aware, they feel pain, they can think. Yet religion feels they are somehow equal to a glob of microscopic mush. If it was not for religion standing in the way of this science, these medical advancements would be able to save millions of lives every year.
Religion has a long history of standing in the way of science’s efforts to help humanity. The renaissance humanists had to advance the field of human anatomy in secret, for fear of the church. The information they discovered would prove to be invaluable in the field of surgery. Everyday, surgery improves the lives of thousands of people around the world, helping cure them of illnesses, and prolong their lives. The longer a person is alive, the more he/she can function as a valuable member of society. Without science, the human life expectancy rate would be drastically lower.
Unfortunately, each year people die as a direct result of their religious superstitions. For example, in 1998 two year old Harrison Johnson was stung 432 times by wasps while his parents were visiting church friends in Tampa. The parents refused to seek medical attention for their child, believing doctors to practice witchcraft. Instead, they asked the church community to gather round the boy and pray. The two year old boy suffered an agonizing death that could have been prevented had his superstitious parents taken him to an emergency room (Victims of Religion). Religion seeks to run society with the same mindset as Harrison’s parents. This type of superstitious healthcare system would obviously be extremely detrimental to millions of sick people. Unfortunately for people living in Africa, the Bush administration has similar views as Harrison’s parents when it comes to healthcare and morality. President Bush has decided to cut off all funding to any overseas group that provides information on abortion and safe sex. As a direct result of this decision, he has effectively stopped condom provision to sixteen countries, and reduced it in thirteen, including those countries with the world’s highest rates of AIDS (Harris 167). It is now that the devastating cost in human lives and suffering becomes obvious. Millions of people in Africa will now contract the fatal HIV virus, all because the Bush administration holds a religious view that sex before marriage is wrong. Bush is instead squandering the money on “abstinence only” education that has been proven not to be effective (Good).
A good way to examine the health of a country and its society is by examining the Human Development Index. The HDI rates the standard of living of various countries around the world from 0 (the worst) to 1 (the best). With only the United States as an exception, the general trend between a country and its level of religious belief is that the higher the level of belief, the lower the HDI of that society. Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and India are three countries with a high level of theism. Their HDIs range from .448 to .777 (Human Development Trends). In stark contrast, Sweden, Japan, and France are three of the most atheistic countries. Their HDIs range from .942 to .951 (Human Development Trends). High levels of religiosity clearly do not help a country’s society.
Religion has stood in the way of more than just society’s quest to improve medical knowledge. Historically, faith has stood in the way of society’s attempt to better understand the universe we live in. For thousands of years, the sun revolved around the flat earth, and angels moved the heavenly bodies around their perfectly circular orbit. This was accepted truth, backed by the Christian church. Yet, near the end of the middle ages, men like Galileo Galilei and Copernicus were putting forth ideas of a heliocentric solar system. This view was held to be in direct confrontation with established Christian doctrine. As a result, Galileo was forced to recant his findings. Religion had successfully used fear to keep scientists quiet. However, as time went on, the Christian Church was forced to abandon its doctrine of a geocentric solar system in the face of overwhelming evidence and ridicule. It is interesting to note that while Hitler was never excommunicated by the Catholic Church, Galileo was not absolved of heresy until 1992 (Harris 105).
If religion fails to stop scientific advancement outright through fear or coercion, the next way it attempts to impede society’s advancement is to target the children. For centuries, religion has tried to censure what can be taught in schools. As far back as the middle ages, religion kept Muslim translations of the Greek classics out of the universities of Christendom. In early modern Europe, the Index was a list of books banned by the Catholic Church. The most famous example in the twentieth century of religion attempting to keep science out of the science classroom is the Scopes trial of 1925. Ever since that highly publicized trial, the science curriculum taught in public schools has been a subject of controversy. Christianity, despite centuries of amazing scientific advancement, wants to teach our children that the world is six thousand years old, “and that the first members of our species were fashioned out of dirt and divine breath, in a garden with a talking snake, by the hand of an invisible God” (Sam Harris: A dissent). The future of a society rests in its children. It is a perilous travesty in this age of science to teach them first century platitudes. Yet, this is exactly what many parents around the world are doing. Faith based schools are on the rise all around the world. In 2004, President Bush made forty billion tax payer dollars available to faith based institutions (Faith-Based Initiative). There are seven thousand faith based schools in the UK, with Tony Blair encouraging the creation of many more (The Virus of Faith). Many of these religious based schools have adopted the American Baptist ACE curriculum, or Accelerated Christian Education. This curriculum intersperses biblical stories such as Noah’s Ark with biology lessons. Representing mythology as scientific fact is a perversion of reason, and dangerous to a society that operates off of the assumption that adults are intelligent, rational beings. The rise in faith based schools mirrors the rise in religious extremism throughout the world. Irrational religious belief seeks to maintain its stranglehold on society by targeting children, and attempting to keep science out of the classroom as much as possible. There is a reason why the Jesuits said “Give me the boy for his first seven years, and I’ll give you the man” (The Virus of Faith).
The greatest danger facing our civilization today is religion. Forty-four percent of Americans, including the president, believe Jesus will return within the next fifty years (Sam Harris: A dissent). With this kind of mindset, these people have absolutely no reason to make sure the world of tomorrow is a stable one. The fact that they are so sure that soon Jesus will magically appear out of the clouds leads them not to care if the world is dragged down into war and chaos. At the same time, there are people who are convinced that by killing for their god, they will be fast tracked to paradise.
Religion has incited violence since its conception. Over the millenniums, society has been forced to bear witness to this fanaticism. One can hardly turn on the news without hearing of another suicide bombing committed in the name of God. The advent of weapons of mass destruction raises society’s level of risk exponentially. Religious superstition is equally harmful to society when it comes to medical practices. Each year people, are killed or seriously injured because they did not seek medical help out of religious convictions. Millions of people in Africa and elsewhere will contract the deadly HIV virus because people like George Bush and the Catholic Church do not believe in practicing safe sex. The suffering of a countless number of people will continue because superstitious Senators stand on the floor of Congress and block stem cell research for reasons they have no evidence to support. Religion is a bane on humanity. Mankind would most definitely be better off without it.
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