Religion, Reason, and Society

I wrote this essay for school, I just finished it, meaning I hope nothing is wrong with it and I'm not going much sleep and I'm glad there isn't a test today. I also wasn't completely sure if it fits the essay idea about "Letter to a Christian Nation" as it seems to be mostly written to an agnostic (as most people use the word). I might also go over it a bit more, maybe add a page or cut out some fat. I'm tired...

What is religion? What is your view of religion? How do you see other beliefs? Do they make any sense to you? Do you find such beliefs irrational? Although some religious people can be helpful and are generally good, any irrational belief is dangerous because it is not based in reality.

Currently there is a movement of political correctness and a view that religious beliefs can’t be questioned. In an article on Al Jazeera’s website Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu is quoted wanting to “pass a [UN] resolution banning attacks on religious beliefs” (Al Jazeera, par. 2). Now it is good to be tolerant, but doesn’t mean you should roll over every time someone claims religion, minority, or anything else when speaking. Honestly if a person is telling others about their view it is making the idea public and opening it up to criticism. Also free speech, how ever much a person can get now days, works both ways. According to about 99% of the American population is religious in some way (Comparing, chart). If a person is religious they probably do not like the idea that their belief is some how irrational, but even if they can admit that it would hard for them to admit the harm it can cause. Even some atheist don’t like this idea or at least expressing the idea. Some will say things like, “You will catch more flies with honey,” however while a person may attract more flies with honey we aren’t talking about flies and truth isn’t always sweet.

The most obvious place to shoot down my idea is to attack the core of it, a religious belief is irrational. In order to continue the discussion we must define a few things. If not to better explain my argument to us the foundation of a discussion. Irrational in its most basic sense is a lack of rationality. Rationality is “sound judgment; good sense” or “[forming] conclusions, judgments, or inferences from facts or premises” (reason). This should not be confused with rationalization which I would define as “[inventing] plausible explanations for acts, opinions, etc., that are actually based on other causes” (rationalization). I would define belief as an idea viewed to be true or accepted by a person. Faith is a form of belief “that is not based on proof” or at least that is how I will use the term (Faith). I do not limit belief or faith to religion alone because they are not really religious only terms. If you really think about it almost anything a person holds to be true is some sort of belief, but there is a difference between beliefs. Believing the sun will rise tomorrow and politicians don’t lie aren’t exactly equal beliefs.

I hear a lot of people talk about how reality is relative so all beliefs are equal, but reality isn’t relative. Maybe relative to the mind, but there a world, a universe, or a reality that is real and we all share. Really the idea that all beliefs are equal is as good as saying a belief makes things true, something a few will ever admit to. This is not the case no matter how badly they, I, or anyone else might want it to be. There is also the ‘what if?’ thrown around, but all that does is raise the idea as a possibility. I would say almost anything is possible, but I would also say possibility and actuality are very different. Another point that is raised frequently is that there is nothing to disprove it, whatever it may be. Well there is no such thing as disproof, it really shouldn’t even be a word. A person can really only prove things or point out flaws in other proofs. The closes thing a person might ever get to disproof is someone showing how an idea doesn’t make logical sense, but even then they would have to have an idea to work with. Basically it means nothing to never be proven wrong, but means everything to be proven right.

I also hear how religious beliefs give a moral foundation for people. Well if the only thing keeping a person from going on a killing spree is a story I’d hope they would keep believing. Now this idea will at some point ask where do morals come from if not from a divine source. I would say morals would logically come from where ever empathy comes from. I know someone else’s pain would mean nothing if a person can’t think about other people’s point of view. Also if the only thing that matters to a person is themself morals will hit the lower standard of rewards and punishments. I’d also like to point out that serval religion have that standard of morals. How many times do you hear about how bad people are going to hell and good people are going to heaven? If the only reason to do the good is because it is good then why need such a system? People will cite charity as an example of religion being moral, however I know of nonreligious who do “good works” and of the religious who don’t.

Another argument I hear is that even if a religion isn’t true isn’t ok if it gives people hope or peace. Really this is like asking me to approve of a safety blanket because it makes people feel good. Now even if they are wrong what does it matter? Could such beliefs cause harm? Personally I would argue feeling good is good, but it would never out weigh a lie. Of course my personal feelings on it don’t matter in the public sphere so I have to address how such things can effect me.

If I’m going to talk about the harm religion can cause I should start with history. The response to history is usually an argument like they really weren’t religious or they didn’t poses the true values. This is a logical fallacy more commonly know as the No-True-Scottsmen. Austin Cline gives an example of the term by paraphrasing the statement, “‘Ah, yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge’” (Cline, par 3). Through out history there are events that have religious meaning behind them or at least religion plays a role in them. E.L. Skip Knox mentions during The Crusades “(God wills it) became the battle cry”(Knox, par. 5). Although CAIN describes the religious connection of The Troubles as “a historical accident” they also points out that “[religion] has a special significance as it was used as a marker to distinguish and discriminate between sections of the community”(CAIN, par. 4). Encarta defines Jihad as “the struggle to please God” but also admits that “Muslim militants extend the concept of jihad to acts of terrorism”(Jihad, par. 1-2). During the unpeaceful conversion of the Native Americas “sexual sinners and spirit worshipers were whipped, and monks generally ignored Spanish laws intended to protect the native peoples”(Henretta 41). These are all examples of religion playing a role if not the roll in conflicts. There are also more current or continuing examples of these conflicts occurring in places like India, Ireland, Tibet, South Africa, and varies Middle Eastern nations (Religiously, chart).

Besides all out war between groups there is also the physical harm that has happened to those at the hands of religious people in power. Middle Ages had its share of killing, but it was also a loss for everyone in that knowledge was lost and progress held back. People were killed for thinking differently or raising questions during this time with inquisitions. That is a prime example of killing in the name of a god and literally for lacking belief or not having the right kind. Giordano Bruno, a philosopher was charged with “blasphemy, immoral conduct, and heresy” and when he “[refused] to recant, Bruno was burned at the stake” (Giordano, par. 4). Galileo “was sentenced to life imprisonment” and writings of his were burned for the idea of Copernicanism (Galileo, par. Cool. Witch hunts are not just limited to Salem, the happened all over Europe and a few cases are popping up in Africa (Jones).

The harm I am talking about isn’t always violence that few people would commend anyway. This kind of harm is less obvious and is something which the people at the root of it honestly feel it is something all should accept as right. Look at the education issues over evolution or sex ed, to deny the religious issues behind it all would be foolish. Dave Rogers’ article over problems Quebec is having with “unlicensed Christian evangelical schools” and what they won’t teach illustrates this quite well. Mr. Buchanan, “chairman of a committee that reorganized the school’s administration this past summer”, is quoted as saying things about evolution like "We also teach that a better theory -- that God created the universe"(Rogers, par. 6). He also explained his view point on sex ed by saying, “the Christian world view that says sex should only be in marriage and a public school system that teaches kids about sexuality... We believe students should be taught abstinence” (par. Cool. We have people wanting to change laws or make new ones over all sorts of thing including preventing people from getting married. A Christian site discussing the topic or gay marriage said that “God will judge any society that institutes same sex marriages” (What, par. 9). To be fair not all Christians believe this, but many do and so do other people who are not Christian. The point is they believe this is what God says and they will fight like it is a fight for God. Also there are implication of a doomsday belief. If we believe things are going to end we aren’t going to be planing for the future or worse yet the end of the world is a good thing (Bard).

Again, I am well aware that people will not accept the idea that religion can be a bad thing or they would want to keep certain aspects of it, but I’m not going to pretend everything is fine because of it. And while someone’s beliefs alone do not cause harm the actions caused or affected by such beliefs can. If someone going to have control over me or my government I question what things they are prepared to believe or do if they have other beliefs that seem irrational.

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CAIN: FAQ. March 23, 2006. CAIN, based within the University of Ulster. December 2, 2006. .

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